That young people are particularly vulnerable to HIV and AIDS is well established, but a new report reveals for the first time new data on HIV prevalence in this group, which accounts for almost half of new adult infections globally.
The Opportunity in Crisis report, released on 1 June by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), UNAIDS and other UN agencies, found that an estimated 2,500 young people aged 15-24 become infected with HIV every day, with young women and girls particularly vulnerable.
“The picture is grim,” said Elhadj As Sy, UNICEF director for eastern and southern Africa, at the launch of the report in Johannesburg. “The faces of young people living with HIV are predominantly African and female… of the five million HIV-positive young people, close to four million are in sub-Saharan Africa. More than 60 percent are young women and in sub-Saharan Africa, this share jumps to 72 percent.
While the report suggest that prevention is working, and some progress has been made, Susan Kasedde, senior specialist in HIV Prevention with UNICEF, warned that countries were falling “far, far short” in their efforts to address HIV among young people and had not invested enough in these programmes.
“Strategies and plans are devised, but money is not allocated, or when it is, efforts are not effectively coordinated, and are not at sufficient scale or are not [of] sufficient quality to ensure the greatest impact from the investment,” the report found.
At the UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on HIV/AIDS in 2001, countries agreed to cut HIV infection among young people by 25 percent by 2010, but only a 12 percent reduction has been achieved.
As Sy said the greatest barrier was stigma and discrimination, particularly in relation to young people at high risk of infection, such as young men who have sex with men, sex workers and injecting drug users, who have been driven underground by discrimination that often prevents them from accessing HIV services.
The report revealed that a young man in the suburbs of Cape Town, South Africa, or Lilongwe, Malawi, who has sex with other men has about a 20 percent chance of becoming HIV-positive by the age of 24, while the risk in the general population of either country is much lower – 4.5 percent in South Africa and 3.1 percent in Malawi.
Recommendations included providing young people with information and comprehensive sexual education; increasing the number of adolescents who know their HIV status, establishing laws and policies that respect young people’s rights, and strengthening monitoring, evaluation and data reporting on this group.
“This [report] should exhort us all to… reflect on commitments made. To prevent HIV, young people must be leadership’s priority,” urged As Sy.