United Nations News Center – West and Central Africa far behind the global response to HIV, UNICEF warns


December 5, 2017 – Four out of five children living with HIV in West and Central Africa are still not receiving life-saving antiretroviral therapy and AIDS-related deaths among 15- to 19-year-olds are on the rise, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has warned.

"It is tragic that so many children and adolescents today do not receive the treatment they need simply because they have not been tested," Marie-Pierre Poirier, the UNICEF Director for the region, said in a press release on Tuesday. asking for improvements in early diagnosis and access to HIV treatment and care for children.

According to UNICEF, West and Central Africa has the lowest pediatric antiretroviral treatment coverage in the world, with only 21% of the 540,000 children (aged 0 to 14 years) living with HIV receiving antiretroviral treatment in 2016, compared to 43 percent worldwide.

A major cause behind this is the limited ability of countries to perform the necessary tests for the early diagnosis of HIV in infants.

"Without knowing a child's HIV status, his family is less likely to seek treatment that could prevent the tragedy of a child's death from AIDS-related illnesses," UNICEF said.

The situation is worse among adolescents: the annual number of new HIV infections among those between the ages of 15 and 19 in the region now exceeds that of children from 0 to 14 years old. These new infections occur mainly through unprotected badual contact and among adolescents.

Without knowing a child's serostatus, his family is less likely to seek treatment that could prevent the tragedy of a child's death from AIDS-related illness UNICEF

Equally worrisome, according to Step Up the Rhythm: towards a recently published UNICEF report, without AIDS, is that the region has seen a 35 percent increase in the annual number of AIDS-related deaths among adolescents aged 15 to 19, the only age group in which the number of AIDS-related deaths increased between 2010 and 2016.

With the young population of the region it is expected to grow significantly in the coming decades, especially in countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Nigeria, the number of children and adolescents becoming infected with HIV and dying of AIDS is likely to remain high, unless the response to HIV, both prevention and treatment improve, dramatically improve, warns the report.

To overcome these obstacles, the report calls for key strategies that allow countries to accelerate efforts to stop the spread of disease.

In particular, it proposes a differentiated response to HIV focused on unique epidemiological and local contexts in each country and community; integration of HIV-related services into key social services, including health, education and protection; community ownership and local governance of the HIV response, including working with families to help reduce stigma, access prevention and treatment; and investing in innovations to eliminate barriers to biomedical and diagnostic approaches, such as point-of-care diagnosis, HIV self-testing and pre-exposure prophylaxis.

"The leaders of the region supported a recovery plan to triple the number of people in treatment in the region, including children, by the end of 2018. The key issue now is to accelerate implementation," said Luiz Loures, the Deputy Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Program on HIV / AIDS (UNAIDS).

"Countries should urgently establish more effective strategies for early childhood diagnosis of HIV and begin to reduce the inequity in children's access to treatment"

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