New UNICEF Report: Adolescent Girls Most Affected by HIV

Studies from across the world paint a really positive picture – the number of new infections with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) has been steadily going down. The problem is yet far from being completely addressed, however. Certain population segments and demographics are still dealing with disproportionately high rates of infection.

A new UNICEF report suggests that one rather surprising and vulnerable group is bearing the brunt of the HIV burden. That segment is comprised of adolescent girls.

Girls More Than Twice Likely to Contract HIV During Than Boys

The UNICEF Global Snapshot on Children with HIV and AIDS focused on HIV-related developments that occurred in 2022 to affect both children and adolescents. While the report has brought to attention a number of positive findings, it still highlights various problems standing in the way of overcoming the HIV pandemic.

In 2022, girls were twice as likely as boys to become infected with HIV.

The new infections among girls aged 10 to 19 reached 98,000 cases in 2022. That number has been reduced significantly from the 190,000 new infections among girls registered in 2010. Still, the 2022 data suggests that 1,900 adolescent girls became HIV-positive every week during the course of the year.

The total number of new infections among children and adolescents was 270,000. These numbers pertain to young individuals aged zero to 19.

Gender Inequalities Are the Root Cause of the Problem

The report authors point at several important factors that are contributing to the disproportionately high number of new HIV infections among adolescent girls.

Gender inequalities are considered the number one contributor. In many parts of the world, girls are still discouraged from taking charge of their sexuality and pursuing safe sexual practices. They lack the power and the knowledge to set boundaries and enforce safe sex practices with their partners. As a result, the risk of becoming infected with HIV or another sexually transmitted disease (STD) is increased exponentially.

Poverty may also be a contributing factor.

A number of the girls that became HIV-positive in 2022 live in rural communities located far away from health centres and sexual health clinics. These girls don’t have easy access to contraception, STD testing or prophylactic opportunities.

The lack of access to HIV prevention is also linked to reduced availability of sexual health programmes. In the absence of knowledge, teens may more eagerly engage in sexual practices that are jeopardising their own health and wellbeing.

Regional Specifics Paint an Even Darker Picture

The global stats are somewhat troubling but when UNICEF looked at regional discrepancies, the analysis reached even grimmer conclusions.

Young girls in Sub-Saharan Africa are even more severely affected than their peers in other parts of the world.

In these countries, adolescent girls and young women aged up to 24 are three times as likely as boys to contract HIV.

Eastern and Southern African countries also have the highest number of HIV-positive individuals in the zero to 19 age group. West and Central African countries follow. Other parts of the world that have a fairly high number of infected children include East Asia and the Pacific, as well as Latin America and the Caribbean region.

Children Have Limited Access to Treatments in Comparison to Adults

Gender roles aren’t the only ones to blame for the fact that girls continue to bear the brunt of the HIV epidemic.

In general, children of any gender are less likely to have access to HIV prophylaxis and treatments than adults.

The UNICEF report suggests that globally, more than one million HIV-positive individuals in the zero to 19 age group are not receiving treatment. Approximately 60 per cent of these children live in Eastern and Southern African countries.

The diagnostic processes for children in many impoverished communities are inaccessible or very cumbersome.  Middle and low income countries also don’t have programmes or testing requirements specifically written to address children’s needs.

It’s also a fact that age-appropriate antiretroviral therapies (ART) are also not readily available in all parts of the world. This is why only 57 per cent of children aged zero to 14 have already started their ART regimen. In comparison, 77 per cent of the HIV-positive individuals aged 15 and older are on ART.

There is still a lot of work to be done, UNICEF concludes. We are still witnessing the death of 99,000 children and adolescents due to AIDS-related causes in a single year.  This number accounts for 15 per cent of all the AIDS-related deaths. At the same time, the age group comprises only seven per cent of all HIV and AIDS cases. The numbers don’t add up and making healthcare more accessible for children while ending gender inequalities will be top priorities in the years to come.

Getting Tested Early Enough Saves Lives!

In Singapore, HIV tests and STD tests are readily available through men’s health clinic like Shim Clinic.

Anyone, regardless of gender or age, can visit the clinic each day of the week to have their most pressing questions answered in fully confidential settings. Shim Clinic offers a wide array of STD screening panels, as well as prophylactic and treatment options.

If you’re not ready to pay us a visit yet, contact Shim Clinic now and we’ll do our best to respond to your inquiries promptly.