300,000 Children Newly Infected with HIV

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Michael Olugbode in Abuja

UNICEF has revealed that at least 300,000 children were newly infected with HIV in 2020, which translated to one child every two minutes.

A report released by UNICEF yesterday, ahead of World AIDS Day today, disclosed that another 120,000 children died from AIDS-related causes during the same period, or one child every five minutes.

According to the report, in Nigeria, 20,695 children aged 0-9 years were newly infected with HIV in 2020 – or one child every 30 minutes.

The latest HIV and AIDS Global Snapshot further warned that a prolonged COVID-19 pandemic was deepening the inequalities that have long driven the HIV epidemic, putting vulnerable children, adolescents, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers at increased risk of missing life-saving HIV prevention and treatment services.

Speaking on the situation, the UNICEF Executive Director, Henrietta Fore, said: “The HIV epidemic enters its fifth decade amid a global pandemic that has overloaded health care systems and constrained access to life-saving services.

“Meanwhile, rising poverty, mental health issues, and abuse are increasing children and women’s risk of infection. Unless we ramp up efforts to resolve the inequalities driving the HIV epidemic, which are now exacerbated by COVID-19, we may see more children infected with HIV and more children losing their fight against AIDS.”

The report said it was alarming that 2 in 5 children living with HIV worldwide do not know their status, and just over half of children with HIV are receiving antiretroviral treatment (ART). Some barriers to adequate access to HIV services are longstanding and familiar, including discrimination and gender inequalities.

According to the report, in Nigeria, about 30 per cent of AIDS-related deaths in 2020 occurred in children and that only about 3.5 per cent of the 1,629,427 Nigerians receiving antiretroviral treatment (ART) are children, revealing a big treatment gap.

It lamented that barriers to adequate access to HIV services are longstanding and familiar, including discrimination and gender inequalities.

The report also said in Nigeria, almost eight out of ten new infections occurring in adolescents aged 10-19 occur in adolescent girls, while an estimated 83,000 pregnant women in Nigeria are HIV positive. Only 44 per cent of them are on ART, risking continued mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

The report however noted that many countries saw significant disruptions in HIV services due to COVID-19 in early 2020. HIV infant testing in high burden countries declined by 50 to 70 per cent, with new treatment initiations for children under 14 years of age falling by 25 to 50 per cent.

UNICEF Nigeria Country Representative, Peter Hawkins, also said, “Children and adolescents continue to be left behind in the HIV response around the world. In Nigeria, teenage girls also bear the heaviest burden. We must increase and sustain HIV investments to ensure children are born free of HIV and stay HIV-free throughout childhood and adolescence.

“This is a shared responsibility. The HIV response must be increasingly integrated into all ongoing sector plans. The COVID-19 response presents an opportunity for Nigeria to take big strides to make strategic health system-wide investments that can benefit all children and adolescents. That must include meaningful engagement with all affected communities, especially the most vulnerable.”