Health, fitness and Food
Aids deaths soar among young due to inadequate health services
Deaths among 10- to 19-year-olds increase by 50%, with women up to three times more likely to get infected, says WHO
Millions of young people are at risk of HIV infection because governments are not providing appropriate health services, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The failure to adequately support 10- to 19-year-olds has resulted in a 50% increase in reported Aids-related deaths among this age group between 2005 and 2012, bucking the global trend among the general population that saw deaths fall by 30%. Most of the new infections occur in young women, who are up to three times more likely to get infected than young men – due in part to their lower social status in some countries.
The WHO said the increase was largely down to the failure of governments to prioritise adolescents in national HIV plans or provide teen-friendly testing services and counselling.
Another, more specific, reason for the high number of deaths is because many young people who were born HIV-positive either did not receive antiretroviral treatment straight away, or, if they did, failed to receive adequate follow-up care but managed to survive into adolescence.
In the runup to World Aids Day on 1 December, the WHO on Monday issued new guidelines on HIV support and care for adolescents, which call for more tailored approaches to testing and counselling and better, more immediate, access to treatment if young people test positive. Young people also need more support to disclose their status to their families and to stick to treatment regimes, the organisation said.
It added that not enough attention had been given to research on how best to tackle the disease among this cohort and the sorts of programmes that would work best for them.
"Adolescents face difficult and often confusing emotional and social pressures as they grow from children into adults," said Dr Gottfried Hirnschall, director of the WHO's HIV and Aids department. "Adolescents need health services and support, tailored to their needs. They are less likely than adults to be tested for HIV, and often need more support than adults to help them maintain care and to stick to treatment."
Data collected from sub-Saharan Africa shows that only 10% of young men and 15% of young women between the ages of 15 and 24 were aware of their HIV status.
"Adolescent girls, young men who have sex with men, those who inject drugs or are subject to sexual coercion and abuse are at highest risk," said Craig McClure, chief of HIV programmes for the UN children's agency, Unicef. "They face many barriers, including harsh laws, inequalities, stigma and discrimination, which prevent them from accessing services that could test, prevent and treat HIV. About one-seventh of all new HIV infections occur during adolescence. Unless the barriers are removed, the dream of an Aids-free generation will never be realised."