One Nigerian child infected with HIV every 30 minutes – UNICEF

...decries poor access to treatment for Children

As Nigeria joins the world to mark World AIDS Day, the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) disclosed that 20,695 children aged 0-9 years were newly infected with HIV in 2020, which translates to one child every 30 minutes.

But, the agency decried that a significant number of HIV-infected children are not receiving antiretroviral treatment (ART) while noting that 30 percent of AIDS-related death in the same year occurred in children alone.

“Alarmingly, only about 3.5 percent of the 1,629,427 Nigerians receiving antiretroviral treatment (ART) are children, revealing a big treatment gap. Barriers to adequate access to HIV services are longstanding and familiar, including discrimination and gender inequalities,” the agency said in a report released to mark World Aids Day.

The agency further revealed that only 44 percent of an estimated 83,000 HIV positive pregnant women in Nigeria are HIV positive are on ART, risking continued mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

UNICEF also disclosed that Nigeria has the highest number of children and adolescents aged 0-19 years living with HIV in West and Central Africa, with an estimate of 190,000.

“Children and adolescents continue to be left behind in the HIV response around the world. In Nigeria, teenage girls also bear the heaviest burden. We must increase and sustain HIV investments to ensure children are born free of HIV and stay HIV-free throughout childhood and adolescence,” said Peter Hawkins, UNICEF Nigeria Country Representative.

“This is a shared responsibility. The HIV response must be increasingly integrated into all ongoing sector plans. The COVID-19 response presents an opportunity for Nigeria to take big strides to make strategic health system-wide investments that can benefit all children and adolescents. That must include meaningful engagement with all affected communities, especially the most vulnerable,” Hawkins added.

UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore noted that the HIV epidemic has entered its fifth decade amid a global pandemic that has overloaded health care systems and constrained access to life-saving services, but, rising poverty, mental health issues, and abuse are increasing children and women’s risk of infection.

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“Unless we ramp up efforts to resolve the inequalities driving the HIV epidemic, which are now exacerbated by COVID-19, we may see more children infected with HIV and more children losing their fight against AIDS,” Fore said.

Globally, at least 300,000 children were newly infected with HIV in 2020, or one child every two minutes, UNICEF said, adding that another 120,000 children died from AIDS-related causes during the same period, or one child every five minutes.

The latest HIV and AIDS Global Snapshot warns that a prolonged COVID-19 pandemic is deepening the inequalities that have long driven the HIV epidemic, putting vulnerable children, adolescents, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers at increased risk of missing life-saving HIV prevention and treatment services.

Alarmingly, 2 in 5 children living with HIV worldwide do not know their status, and just over half of children with HIV are receiving ART Some barriers to adequate access to HIV services are longstanding and familiar, including discrimination and gender, the inequalities, the report noted.

The report notes that many countries saw significant disruptions in HIV services due to COVID-19 in early 2020. HIV infant testing in high burden countries declined by 50 to 70 per cent, with new treatment initiations for children under 14 years of age falling by 25 to 50 percent.

Although uptake of services rebounded in June 2020, coverage levels remain far below those before COVID-19, and the true extent of the impact remains unknown.

In 2020, sub-Saharan Africa accounted for 89 percent of new HIV paediatric infections and 88 per cent of children and adolescents living with HIV worldwide, with adolescent girls six times more likely to be infected with HIV than boys. Some 88 per cent of AIDS-related child deaths were in sub-Saharan Africa.