Inequalities put children at higher risk of HIV

Inequalities that drive HIV put children at increased risk of infection (File Photo)

Children will pay the ultimate price as inequalities continue to drive the HIV epidemic, warns UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. 

Last year 120,000 children died from Aids-related illnesses. And 300,000 children were newly infected. This is according to UNICEF’s latest HIV and Aids Global Snapshot.

“Unless we ramp up efforts to resolve the inequalities driving the HIV epidemic, which are now exacerbated by COVID-19, we may see more children infected with HIV and more children losing their fight against AIDS,” said Fore.

Inequalities are deepening

The report warns the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic is deepening the inequalities that have long driven the HIV epidemic. This has made it difficult for vulnerable children, pregnant women, and breastfeeding mothers to access HIV prevention and treatment services.

“The HIV epidemic enters its fifth decade amid a global pandemic that has overloaded health care systems and constrained access to life-saving services. Meanwhile, rising poverty, mental health issues, and abuse are increasing children and women’s risk of infection,” Fore said. 

Alarmingly, 2 in 5 children living with HIV worldwide do not know their status, and just over half of children with HIV are receiving antiretroviral treatment (ART). 

COVID-19 disrupted HIV services in 2020

The report confirmed that COVID-19 significantly disrupted HIV services in many countries in early 2020. 

Spikes in gender-based violence, limited access to care, and stockouts caused by lockdowns contributed to increased infection rates. Although uptake of services improved in June 2020, it remained far below those before COVID-19.

In regions heavily burdened by HIV, a prolonged pandemic could widen the gaps in the global HIV response, the report warns.

Sub-Saharan Africa recorded most child infections

In 2020, sub-Saharan Africa accounted for 89 percent of new HIV paediatric infections and 88 percent of children and adolescents living with HIV worldwide. Teenage girls are six times more likely to be infected with HIV than boys. In 2020 120,000 adolescent girls became newly infected. About 88 percent of AIDS-related child deaths were in sub-Saharan Africa.

“Building back better in a post-pandemic world must include HIV responses that are evidence-based, people-centred, resilient, sustainable and, above all, equitable. These initiatives must be delivered through a reinforced health care system and meaningful engagement of all affected communities, especially the most vulnerable,” said Fore. – Health-e News


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