The U.N.’s main AIDS program says thousands of children are dying from HIV/AIDS because, unlike adults, they do not receive treatment for the deadly disease.
HIV/AIDS is no longer an automatic death sentence. People infected with the disease can live a normal lifespan, provided they receive treatment and care. Unfortunately, there is a glaring disparity between the way children and adults with HIV/AIDS are treated.
UNAIDS spokeswoman Charlotte Sector says 76 percent of adults have access to treatment but only half of children living with HIV are receiving lifesaving treatment. She says children account for 15 percent of all AIDS deaths, despite making up only four percent of all people living with the disease.
“Last year alone 160,000 children were infected with HIV,” Sector said. “So, what is happening is that 12 countries are coming together in Africa because six countries in sub-Saharan Africa represent 50 percent of those new infections.”
She says a global alliance led by UNAIDS, the World Health Organization, and UNICEF has formed to close the huge gap. She says 12 African countries have joined the alliance. Sector says health ministers from eight countries will launch the initiative next week in Tanzania.
“So, not only is it getting children on treatment, but it is mostly trying to stop vertical transmission,” Sector said. “Now what is vertical transmission? It is the mother passing on HIV during pregnancy, during delivery or during breast feeding because most of those transmissions are taking place during breastfeeding.”
Spector says efforts to contain the spread of HIV in sub-Saharan Africa mainly have been centered on getting adults on treatment, as the main transmitters of the virus. In the process, however, she says the needs of children have been overlooked.
“So, what happens is suddenly there is a realization that we have forgotten all these children, and there is a forgotten generation of children,” Sector said. “So now, there has been a scramble to kind of close that faucet, if I may say, of getting to the children before they are even born or after they are born.”
The global alliance will run for the next eight years until 2030. During that period, it aims to close the treatment gap for pregnant and breastfeeding adolescent girls and women living with HIV, prevent and detect new HIV infections, provide access to testing and treatment, and end the social barriers that hinder access to services.