1.7 million children living with HIV missed treatment in 2020 – Report

HIV/AIDS

*Says urgent action needed to prevent millions of infections

By Doosuur Iwambe, Abuja

The latest report released by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) has revealed that at least 1.7 million children living with HIV were not on treatment in 2020.

According to the final report from the Start Free, Stay Free, AIDS Free initiative, UNAIDS and partners, over 150 000 children were newly infected with HIV, four times more than the 2020 target of 40 000.

A joint press statement issued in Geneva, Switzerland on July 21 by UNAIDS and partners warned that progress towards ending AIDS among children, adolescents and young women has stalled and none of the targets for 2020 were met.

The report shows that the total number of children on treatment declined for the first time, despite the fact that nearly 800 000 children living with HIV are not currently on treatment.

It also shows that opportunities to identify infants and young children living with HIV early are being missed—more than one third of children born to mothers living with HIV were not tested. If untreated, around 50% of children living with HIV die before they reach their second birthday.

Reacting to the report, Shannon Hader, UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director, Programme said, it was unfortunate that despite early and dramatic progress recorded over the years, children are falling way behind adults.

“Over 20 years ago, initiatives for families and children to prevent vertical transmission and to eliminate children dying of AIDS truly kick-started what has now become our global AIDS response.

‘’This stemmed from an unprecedented activation of all partners, yet, despite early and dramatic progress, despite more tools and knowledge than ever before, children are falling way behind adults and way behind our goals.

“The inequalities are striking—children are nearly 40% less likely than adults to be on life-saving treatment (54% of children versus 74% of adults), and account for a disproportionate number of deaths (just 5% of all people living with HIV are children, but children account for 15% of all AIDS-related deaths).

This is about children’s right to health and healthy lives, their value in our societies. It’s time to reactivate on all fronts—we need the leadership, activism, and investments to do what’s right for kids’’, Hader said.

The report while highlighting major disparities between countries revealed that 11 countries account for nearly 70% of the missing children living with HIV but not on treatment.

‘’Although the 2020 targets were missed, the 21 focus countries in Africa made better progress than the non-focus countries.

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‘’However, there were major disparities between countries, and these countries still bear the highest burden of disease: 11 countries account for nearly 70% of the “missing children”—those living with HIV but not on treatment.

‘’There was a 24% decline in new HIV infections among children from 2015 to 2020 in focus countries versus a 20% decline globally.

Focus countries also achieved 89% treatment coverage for pregnant women living with HIV, compared to 85% globally, but still short of the target of 95%, and there were huge differences between countries. For example, Botswana achieved 100% treatment coverage, yet the Democratic Republic of the Congo only reached 39%.

“While we are deeply distressed by the global paediatric HIV shortfalls, we are also encouraged by the fact that we largely have the tools we need to change this,” said Angeli Achrekar, Acting United States Global AIDS Coordinator.

“So, let this report be a call to action to challenge complacency and to work tirelessly to close the gap’’, it added.

The report outline some major actions required to end new HIV infections among children in the focus countries to include; reaching out to pregnant women with testing and treatment as early as possible and ensuring continuity of treatment and viral suppression during pregnancy amongst others.

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