Answer’s mother, Nonhlanhla, was HIV-positive when she found out she was pregnant. Yet, thanks to antiretroviral therapy and unterrupted breastfeeding, Answer has remained HIV-free and healthy.
An estimated 1.1 million HIV infections among children under 15 have been averted, as new cases declined by over 50 per cent between 2005 and 2013, according to data released by UNICEF for World AIDS Day.
This extraordinary progress is the result of expanding the access of millions of pregnant women living with HIV to services for the prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTCT). These include lifelong HIV treatment that markedly reduces the transmission of the virus to babies and keeps their mothers alive and well.
“If we can avert 1.1 million new HIV infections in children, we can protect every child from HIV – but only if we reach every child,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. “We must close the gap, and invest more in reaching every mother, every newborn, every child and every adolescent with HIV prevention and treatment programmes that can save and improve their lives.”
The sharpest declines took place between 2009 and 2013 in eight African countries: Malawi (67%); Ethiopia (57%); Zimbabwe (57%); Botswana (57%); Namibia (57%); Mozambique (57%); South Africa (52%) and Ghana (50%).
But the global goal of reducing new HIV infections in children by 90 per cent between 2009 and 2015 is still out of reach. Only 67 per cent of pregnant women living with HIV in all low- and middle-income countries received the most effective antiretroviral medicines for PMTCT in 2013.
Disparity in access to treatment is hampering progress. Among people living with HIV in low- and middle-income countries, adults are much more likely than children to get antiretroviral therapy (ART). In 2013, 37 per cent of adults aged 15 and older received treatment, compared with only 23 per cent of children (aged 0-14) – or less than 1 in 4.
AIDS mortality trends for adolescents are also of significant concern. While all other age groups have experienced a decline of nearly 40 per cent in AIDS-related deaths between 2005 and 2013, adolescents (aged 10-19) are the only age group in which AIDS-related deaths are not decreasing.
UNICEF’s Statistical Update on Children, Adolescents and AIDS provides the most recent analysis of global data on children and adolescents from birth to 19 years of age.