By Yashim Katurak
Abuja – The World Health Organisation (WHO) says girls account for nearly 80 per cent of new HIV infections in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Dr Felicitas Zawaira, the Director, Family and Reproductive Health Cluster, WHO Regional Office for Africa, said this in a statement issued in Abuja on Monday.
Zawaira said most recent data from the organisation showed that only 13 per cent of these adolescent girls, and nine per cent of adolescent boys had been tested for HIV in the past 12 months in the region.
She said adolescents in the African region represented approximately 23 per cent of the population with several specific needs when it comes to their health.
Zuwaira said in spite of their large numbers, very few African governments had put in place specific plans and policies that targeted adolescents.
According to her, numerous social, cultural and economic barriers further prevent them from accessing the health services they need.
“These realities are compounded by the fact that adolescents and young people represent a growing share of people living with HIV.
“In 2015, 250,000 adolescents between the ages of 15 and 19 were newly infected with HIV.
“Adolescents and young people are our future; we call them the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) generation.
“This is because they will be adults by the time we get to 2030. Unless we ensure that they grow up healthy and remain healthy, we are going to face incredible challenges down the road,’’ Zawaira said.
The director said adolescents had the potential to become productive members of the society, adding that this would not be achieved, if they were plagued by illness and lacked the opportunity to grow.
She said that as part of WHO’s new Adolescent Health Flagship programme, the organisation would support countries to develop strategies and implement evidence-based interventions.
Zuwaira said the interventions would include: improving immunization coverage, tackling substance abuse, treating mental health, offering reproductive and sexual health services, and preventing accidents and injuries.
She said that while the health sector had a special role to play in leading this effort, improving adolescent health would require the involvement of other sectors such as education and finance.
According to her, the involvement of adolescents themselves is also very important to the success of the intervention.