ABUJA – In Nigeria, more than 47 children and adolescents died everyday from AIDS-related causes in 2018, bringing the total number of casualties to more than 17,155, according to a global snapshot on children, HIV and AIDS released by UNICEF in advance of World AIDS Day.
Low access to antiretroviral treatment and limited prevention efforts are the leading causes for these deaths, with only 54 per cent of children aged 0-14 living with HIV globally in 2018 – or 790,000 children – receiving lifesaving antiretroviral therapy.
“Progress has been made in the battle against HIV and AIDS – but we must do more, especially when it comes to Nigerian children and adolescents,” said UNICEF Nigeria Country Representative Peter Hawkins.
“Testing and treating for children and adolescents is a matter of life and death – and we must choose life.”
According to latest global data, regional disparities in access to treatment among children living with HIV are very high, with West and Central Africa faring worst.
Access is highest in South Asia, at 91 per cent, followed by the Middle East and North Africa (73 percent), Eastern and Southern Africa (61 percent), East Asia and the Pacific (61 percent), Latin America and the Caribbean (46 percent) and West and Central Africa (28 percent).
Access to treatment by children living with HIV in Nigeria is only 35 percent.
Mothers’ access to antiretroviral therapy to prevent the transmission of the virus to their babies has increased globally, however, reaching 82 per cent, up from 44 per cent less than 10 years ago. This figure in Nigeria is 44 percent, up from 22 percent in 2009.
“It is good news that more and more pregnant women are receiving antiretroviral treatment to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV, which has helped avert about 2 million new HIV infections and prevented the deaths of over 1 million children under five years old around the word,” said Peter Hawkins.
“But we need to see the same kind of progress in ensuring that children who already have the virus are receiving lifesaving treatment. HIV programmes need to be fully funded and equipped to preserve, protect and improve the quality of life for Nigerian children. We cannot and must not abandon these children,” said Hawkins.
Additional data from the report include:
•In 2018, around 160,000 children aged 0-9 were newly infected with HIV, bringing the total number of children in this age group living with HIV to 1.1 million;
•89,000 children under the age of five were infected during pregnancy or birth and 76,000 were infected during breastfeeding in 2018;
•140,000 adolescent girls were newly infected with HIV in 2018, compared to 50,000 adolescent boys.
To end HIV/AIDS as a public health threat for future generations, UNICEF is urging governments and partners to:
Improve HIV testing and treatment data for children and adolescents to better respond to the needs of this vulnerable population.
Invest in and implement effective and innovative interventions to urgently close the persistent testing and treatment gap for children and adolescents living with HIV. (News Express)