We are failing our young people when HIV/AIDS is their second leading cause of death worldwide. World leaders met in Nairobi, Kenya to launch the “All In” initiative to end AIDS. This is a partnership between UNAIDS and UNICEF engaging all people, most importantly young people, in their future with education and awareness.
According to UNAIDS, HIV/AIDS is the number one cause of death in Africa affecting primarily young women. As of 2013, most of the 2.1 million adolescents living with HIV contacted the virus a decade prior from their pregnant mothers or in their early months. Antiretroviral medicines were not yet available. Today, only 25% of the demographic group under 15 years have access to life saving equipment.
UN News Centre Source
“Children and young people should be the first to benefit from the progress we have made in ending the epidemic, not the last,” said UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director Anthony Lake at the launch of a new platform for action to drive better results for adolescents by encouraging changes in policy and engaging young people in the effort.
“We need to reach the adolescents we are missing and engage all young people in the effort to end adolescent AIDS. In fact, we cannot achieve the goal of an AIDS-free generation without them,” Mr. Lake stressed. More than 200 young advocates and leaders from adolescent and youth movements were present at launch of ‘All In’ in Nairobi today.
New HIV infections among adolescents are not declining as quickly as among other age groups. Adolescent girls are most affected. In South Africa, for example, more than 860 girls became infected with HIV every week in 2013, compared to 170 boys.
This is also a pressing issue in East Asia and the Pacific. Thailand, for example, is facing a new rise in HIV cases, especially among young people, with 70% of all sexually transmitted infections (STI) cases occurring in the 15-24 age group. New data released in 2014 showed infections have risen among groups of at-risk young people, namely those involved in sex work, those injecting drugs, and young men having unprotected sex with men.
UNICEF Thailand used this data to talk to the government about reducing the age of consent for HIV tests to below 18, providing training for health workers on working with at-risk young people, and expanding HIV education in schools. In December 2014, the official guidance on HIV tests was changed in line with these recommendations.
Meanwhile, UNAIDS has set new Fast-Track Targets to be achieved by 2020 for adolescents that include reducing new HIV infections by at least 75%, reducing AIDS-related deaths by 65% and achieving zero discrimination. Achieving these targets would put the world on track towards ending adolescent AIDS by 2030 and ending the global AIDS epidemic as a public health threat.