Around 130, 000 children and adolescents became newly infected with HIV in western and central Africa in 2017, making the number of persons living with the condition to reach 800, 000 that year, said agencies of the United Nations (UN).
The UNAIDS, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organisation (WHO), who made this known at a high level meeting in Dakar, Senegal, also urged countries in western and central Africa to do more to stop new HIV infections among children and adolescents as well as increase HIV testing and treatment coverage.
During the period, eleven countries registered a reduction of more than 35 per cent between 2010 and 2017 but others,including Nigeria which has the largest epidemic in the region, experienced no declines at all, according to the report made available on Wednesday.
Around 67, 000 children from age 0 to 9 and 69, 000 adolescents aged 10 to 19 years became infected with HIV in the regions that year, with two thirds (46 000) of adolescents newly infected with the virus being girls.
“Countries in western and central Africa have a real opportunity to create a positive change for children and young people,” said Executive Director of UNAIDS,Michel Sidibé. “Underlying issues including a lack of domestic investment, fragile health systems, user fees, gender inequality and widespread stigma and discrimination must urgently be addressed to remove barriers and save lives.”
According to UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Marie-Pierre Poirier, the majority of children living with HIV in the region are ignorant of their status and do not receive care and treatment.
“We can reverse that trend by focusing on a family-centered approach to HIV testing and treatment and by rolling out innovative point-of-care technologies that bring testing closer to the primary health facilities and the communities where children live,” she said.
Less than half or 47 per cent of all pregnant women living with HIV in the region had access to antiretroviral medicines to prevent transmission of the virus to their child and only 21 per cent of infants exposed to HIV were tested for the virus within the first two months of life.
“We should not lose anymore of Africa’s future to AIDS,” said WHO Regional Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti. “Effectively tackling HIV in children and adolescents needs strong and quality health services. By committing to universal health coverage, countries can fast-track progress towards an AIDS-free generation in western and central Africa.”
Although there has been some progress in antiretroviral therapy coverage for children in western and central Africa, which rose from 18 per cent in 2014 to 26 per cent in 2017, the region still has the lowest coverage in the world.
Around 52, 000 children and adolescents aged between 0 and 19 years died of AIDS-related illnesses in 2017, out of whom 34, 000 died before they reached their fifth birthday.
As part of concerted efforts to step up progress in the region, UNAIDS, UNICEF and WHO called a High-Level Meeting on the Elimination of Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV and Universal Health Coverage of Paediatric HIV Testing and Treatment in West and Central Africa.
Hosted by the Government of Senegal, the meeting is being held in Dakar from 16 to 18 January 2019, bringing together ministers of health, experts, representatives of civil society and partners from across the region as well as high-level representatives of United Nations organizations, the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States and the Economic Community of Central African States.