Adolescents and HIV: how we can create an AIDS-free generation

Written by Dr. Kechi Achebe MD, MPH, Senior Director, HIV/AIDS & TB, Save the Children US

World AIDS Day is held on the 1st December each year and is an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, show their support for people living with HIV and to commemorate people who have died. It is also an opportunity to remind the public and Governments that HIV has not gone away – there is still a vital need to increase awareness/education, access to testing and treatment, as well as fight prejudice.

Globally there are an estimated 36.9 million people living with HIV, as of 2017. 35.4 million people have also died of HIV or AIDS since the start of the epidemic, making it one of the most destructive pandemics in history. While scientific advances have been made in HIV treatment and this is very encouraging, there were still 1.8 million people who became newly infected with HIV in 2017 globally.

More saddening is the impact of HIV on adolescents. Currently, over 30% of all new HIV infections globally are estimated to occur among youth ages 15 to 25 years. Young people (10 to 24 years) and adolescents (10 to 19 years), especially young women and young key populations, continue to be disproportionately affected by HIV. There were 1.8 million children <15 years living with HIV in 2017 globally, while in 2016, 2.1 million people aged between 10 and 19 years were living with HIV and 260,000 became newly infected with the virus. AIDS is now the leading cause of death among young people in Africa and the second leading cause of death among young people worldwide.

As we commemorate the 30th World AIDS Day, Save the Children is making a global call for increased access to HIV prevention education, testing and treatment to adolescents. Save the Children is also joining UNAIDS and the global community to call for increased access to HIV testing and increased uptake of HIV testing, even amongst adolescents. This is to ensure that the 9.4 million people around the world who are unaware of their HIV-positive status can access treatment and that people who are HIV-negative can continue to protect themselves against the virus.

This will renew the possibility of an AIDS-free generation. We need to do more to show adolescents that their lives matter – regardless of their gender, race, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status.