Africa: Young Women Most at Risk of HIV Infection

About 25 million people are living with HIV in Africa, and globally, 6,000 adolescent girls and young women are infected every week, a UNAids report states.

The report, released on December 1, adds that in Sub-Saharan Africa, four in five new HIV infections among adolescents aged 10 to 19 are girls.

Young women aged 15 to 24 are twice as likely to be living with HIV than men of the same age.

But it is not all doom and gloom as the use of prevention options have in the past two decades seen the number of infected people globally fall from 2.9 million in 1997 to 1.7 million in 2018.

The annual number of new HIV infections has declined by 28 per cent since 2010. Progress was noted to be strongest in South Africa.

UNAids executive director Winnie Byanyima presented the report on World Aids Day in Thika town, 45 kilometres outside Nairobi.

Ms Byanyima noted that the world has made great progress in reducing the number of children born with the virus by expanding treatment to pregnant women living with HIV. There are however large gaps in treatment for infants and older children living with the virus.

"It is a shame that children living with HIV are less likely to have access to treatment than adults. We are leaving children behind," she said.

She added that to break the grip of the virus and end the cycle of transmission, there is a need to ensure that people have access to regular HIV testing services and that, if necessary, they are linked to treatment or prevention services immediately.

She said efforts must be made to safeguard the interests and rights of girls and women, particularly those who suffer traditional biases in Africa.

HIV infection in East Africa among adolescent girls and young women aged 15 to 24 has declined by 42 per cent since 2010. On the continent, outside of eastern and southern Africa, new infections declined by four per cent between 2010 and 2018.

Globally, the report indicates that the number of new infections since 2010 has declined by 16 per cent annually.

However key populations and their partners are still acquiring HIV at an alarming rate, which accounted for almost two thirds of new infections in West and Central Africa in 2018, and at least three quarters of new infections in Asia, the Pacific, Middle East, North Africa, Eastern Europe, Central Asia, Western and Central Europe and North America. Knowledge of HIV among young people is low in many regions.

Countries with recently available survey data shows that only 23 per cent of young women aged 15 to 24, and 29 per cent of young men in the same age bracket have comprehensive and correct knowledge of HIV.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, young women and men have slightly higher knowledge of 31 and 35 per cent respectively.

In Africa, efforts to provide pregnant women living with HIV with antiretroviral medicines have led to a steep decline in the number of children newly infected with the virus--from 280,000 in 2010 to 160,000 in 2018, a 41 per cent decrease.

However, in some countries like Nigeria and Zimbabwe, there has been a big challenge of low coverage of antiretroviral therapy among pregnant and breastfeeding women living with HIV.

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