UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) urged countries in western and central Africa on Wednesday to do more to stop new HIV infections among children and adolescents, and increase HIV testing and treatment coverage.
In a high-level meeting in Dakar, Senegal, on Wednesday, the UN agencies urged the regional countries to unpack the challenges, share best practices and innovative approaches to address the persisting bottlenecks, agree on corrective actions and ensure commitment to action from countries and partners.
According to UNAIDS, in 2017 around 67,000 children aged zero to nine years and 69,000 adolescents aged 10 to 19 years became newly infected with HIV.
Two thirds, or about 46,000 adolescents newly infected with the virus were girls.
Despite progress against HIV, some countries, including Nigeria which has the largest epidemic in the region, experienced no declines at all.
“Countries in western and central Africa have a real opportunity to create a positive change for children and young people,” said UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe.
“Underlying issues including a lack of domestic investment, fragile health systems, user fees, gender inequality and widespread stigma and discrimination must urgently be addressed to remove barriers and save lives.”
In western and central Africa, close to 800,000 children and adolescents aged under 20 years were living with HIV in 2017, the second highest number in the world after eastern and southern Africa.
“The majority of children living with HIV in this region are not receiving care and treatment because they do not know they have HIV as they have not been tested,” said UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa Marie-Pierre Poirier.
“We can reverse that trend by focusing on a family-centered approach to HIV testing and treatment and by rolling out innovative point-of-care technologies that bring testing closer to the primary health facilities and the communities where children live.”
According to WHO Regional Director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti, effectively tackling HIV in children and adolescents needs “strong and quality health services. By committing to universal health coverage, countries can fast-track progress towards an AIDS-free generation in western and central Africa.”
As part of concerted efforts to step up progress in the region, UNAIDS, UNICEF and WHO called the three-day high-level meeting starting from Wednesday, which announced, among other plans, an important funding of nearly 1 million U.S. dollars to UNAIDS by Australia for HIV prevention in the Asia-Pacific region. Enditem