Angela Onwuzoo and Lara Adejoro
As Nigeria today joins the global community to mark the 2020 World AIDS Day, the United Nations Children’s Fund, says almost 15 per cent of global AIDS-related deaths in children and adolescents occur in the country.
According to UNICEF, in approximately every minute and 40 seconds, a child or young person under the age of 20 got newly infected with HIV last year, noting that this has brought the total number of children living with HIV globally to 2.8 million.
According to the UN agency, about 22,000 new infections occurred in children aged 0-14 years in 2019 in Nigeria.
The UNICEF report, however, warns that children are being left behind in the fight against HIV.
UNICEF in a press release made available to PUNCH HealthWise by its Communication Officer, Blessing Ejiofor, noted that preventive efforts and treatment for children remain some of the lowest amongst key affected populations.
“In 2019, a little more than half of the children worldwide had access to life-saving treatment, significantly lagging behind coverage for both mothers (85 per cent) and all adults living with HIV (62 per cent). Nearly 110,000 children died of AIDS that year.
“In Nigeria 13,000 children aged 0-14 years died of AIDS-related causes in 2019.
“Despite some progress in the decades-long fight against HIV and AIDS, deep regional disparities persist among all populations, especially for children, the report says. Pediatric coverage of antiretroviral treatment is highest in the Middle East and North Africa, at 81 per cent, and lowest in West and Central Africa (32 per cent). In Nigeria, it is 36 per cent,” the release read in part.
UNICEF Nigeria Representative, Peter Hawkins said “The world is still struggling with the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic, but there is now hope for a vaccine. But we must remember that there is no vaccine for HIV.
“Hundreds of thousands of children continue to suffer the impacts of the HIV epidemic. Children are still getting infected at alarming rates, and they are still dying from AIDS. Even with improvements in recent years, HIV treatment access for children and adolescents is unacceptably low, and much more needs to be done to ensure children get the treatment they need and deserve.”
UNICEF noted that COVID-19 has interrupted vital HIV treatment and prevention services globally, putting countless more lives at risk.
“The COVID-19 crisis has also further exacerbated inequities in access to life-saving HIV services for children, adolescents, and pregnant mothers everywhere.
“Almost 9 out of 10 children and adolescents of the estimated 2.8 million children aged 0–19 living with HIV are in sub-Saharan Africa,” it said.
In a recent UNICEF survey of 29 HIV priority countries, one-third responded that service coverage for children, adolescents, and women living with and vulnerable to HIV is lower by 10 per cent or more, compared with pre-pandemic numbers.
UNAIDS’ HIV service disruption data, cited in the report, further illustrate the impact of necessary control measures, supply chain disruptions, lack of personal protective equipment, and the redeployment of healthcare workers on HIV services.
“In April and May, coinciding with partial and full lockdowns, pediatric HIV treatment and viral load testing in children in some countries declined between 50 to 70 per cent, and new treatment initiation fell by 25 to 50 per cent.
“Similarly, health facility deliveries and maternal treatment were also reported to have reduced by 20 to 60 per cent, maternal HIV testing and ART initiation declined by 25 to 50 per cent, and infant testing services declined by approximately 10 per cent.
“Though the easing of control measures and the strategic targeting of children and pregnant mothers have successfully led to a rebound of services in recent months, challenges remain, and the world is still far from achieving the global 2020 pediatric HIV targets,” it said.
Additional 2019 data provided by UNICEF shows that 150,000 children aged 0-9 years were newly infected with HIV globally, bringing the total number of children in this age group living with HIV to 1.1 million.
“In Nigeria, 22,000 children aged 0-14 years were newly infected with HIV, bringing the total number of children in this age group living with HIV to 150,000.
“170,000 adolescents aged 10-19 were newly infected with HIV globally, bringing the total number of adolescents living with HIV to 1.7 million. In Nigeria, 10,000 adolescents aged 10-19 were newly infected with HIV, bringing the total number of adolescents living with HIV to 110,000
“130,000 adolescent girls were newly infected with HIV in 2019 globally, compared with 44,000 adolescent boys. In Nigeria, 7,100 adolescent girls were newly infected with HIV in 2019, compared with 3,100 adolescent boys.
“The total number of AIDS-related deaths of children and adolescents was 110,000 globally; 79,000 aged 0-9 years and 34,000 aged 10-19. In Nigeria, the total number of AIDS-related deaths of children and adolescents was 16,200; 13,000 aged 0-14 years and 3,200 aged 10-19.
“Mothers’ access to antiretroviral therapy to prevent the transmission of the virus to their babies increased globally to 85 per cent and early infant diagnosis reached 60 per cent, however in Nigeria, women’s access to ART is still at 43 per cent, while early infant diagnosis is at 27 per cent
“The number of pregnant women living with HIV globally was 1.3 million; an estimated 82,000 children under the age of five were infected during pregnancy or birth and 68,000 were infected during breastfeeding. In Nigeria, the number of pregnant women living with HIV in need of ARV was 99,000; an estimated 21,938 children under the age of five were infected during pregnancy, birth or during breastfeeding – this is about 25 per cent of the mother-to-child transmission taking place globally,” UNICEF stated.
The report, however, calls on all governments to protect, sustain, and accelerate progress in fighting childhood HIV by maintaining essential health services and strengthening health systems.
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