Today’s generation of young people has never known a world without HIV. Yet, according to a new report released by UNICEF, Children and AIDS: Sixth Stocktaking Report 2013, the promise is in reach of a world where no child is born with HIV and all children remain uninfected through adolescence. In the 33 years since the first HIV diagnosis, we have both seen the devastating impact of the disease and made impressive progress in HIV prevention and care.
The introduction of lifesaving antiretroviral (ARV) drugs has reduced mother-to-child transmission of HIV and increased life expectancy among perinatally infected infants. The rate of HIV infection among children is rapidly decreasing; since 2009, new HIV infections among children younger than 15 years of age have declined by 35 percent. Despite the enormous progress, much more must be done, especially for adolescents, before we are able to achieve an AIDS-free generation.
According to the report, an estimated 2.1 million adolescents were living with HIV at the end of 2012. Although the overall number of global AIDS-related deaths for all ages declined by 30 percent between 2005 and 2012, AIDS-related deaths among adolescents increased by 50 percent during the same time period. Girls are disproportionately affected. In 2012, an estimated two-thirds of all new HIV infections among adolescents ages 15–19 occurred among girls. In Gabon, Sierra Leone and South Africa, girls accounted for more than 80 percent of all new infections among adolescents. Adolescent key affected populations — injecting drug users, men who have sex with men and individuals who trade or sell sex — are also extremely vulnerable. In Asia and the Pacific, more than 95 percent of new HIV infections occur among this population. This group of adolescents faces particular barriers to accessing services because of social stigma, violence and laws that criminalize risky behaviors.