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Over 300 children and teens died every day from AIDS-related causes in 2018

That’s according to a new Unicef report published today.

Image: Shutterstock/Andrii Velykyi

SOME 320 CHILDREN and adolescents died every day from AIDS-related causes in 2018, according to a report published by Unicef today. 

Low access to antiretroviral treatment, in addition to limited prevention efforts, is the leading cause for these deaths, the report found. 

Only 54% of children aged 0-14 living with HIV in 2018 (790,000 children) received lifesaving antiretroviral therapy.

The data in the report showed deep regional disparities in access to treatment among children living with HIV. 

Access is highest in South Asia at 91%, followed by the Middle East and North Africa (73%), Eastern and Southern Africa (61%), East Asia and the Pacific (61%), Latin America and the Caribbean (46%) and West and Central Africa (28%). 

Mothers’ access to antiretroviral therapy to prevent the transmission of the virus to their babies has increased globally, reaching 82%, up from 44% less than 10 years ago, according to the report.

However, disparities between regions persist, with Eastern and Southern Africa offering the highest rates of coverage (92%), and the Middle East and North Africa offering the lowest (53%).

The data also found that in 2018, around 160,000 children aged 0-9 were newly infected with HIV, bringing the total number of children in this age group living with HIV to 1.1 million.

89,000 children under the age of five were infected during pregnancy or birth and 76,000 were infected during breastfeeding in 2018.

“The world is on the cusp of making great gains in the battle against HIV and AIDS, but we must not rest on the laurels of progress made,” said Unicef executive director Henrietta Fore.

Neglecting testing and treatment initiatives for children and adolescents is a matter of life and death, and for them, we must choose life.

Fore said that giving more and more pregnant women antiretroviral treatment to prevent mother-to-child transmission has “helped averted around 2 million new HIV infections and prevented the deaths of over 1 million children under five years old”.

“We need to see similar progress in paediatric treatment. Closing this gap between children and their mothers could significantly increase the life expectancy and quality of life of children infected with HIV,” Fore said.

To end HIV/AIDS as a public health threat for future generations, Unicef is now urging governments and partners to:

  • Improve HIV testing and treatment data for children and adolescents to better respond to the needs of this vulnerable population. 
  • Invest in and implement effective and innovative interventions to urgently close the persistent testing and treatment gap for children and adolescents living with HIV.

“The cost of failing to test and treat every child at risk of HIV is one we measure in children’s lives and futures – a cost that no society can afford. HIV initiatives need to be fully funded and equipped to preserve, protect and improve the quality of life for children, in the first and second decades,” Fore said. 

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