Seven out of ten infections in adolescents between the ages of 15 and 19 are young girls, according to a report by Unicef. The researchers found that adolescent deaths due to HIV have tripled since 2000 and the majority of these deaths are among teenagers who acquired HIV as babies and survived to their teenage years, either without knowing their HIV status, or having slipped out of care.
Around 40% of new infections among adolescents occurred outside sub-Saharan Africa. Of the affected, about half of adolescents living with HIV are in just six countries: South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, India, Mozambique and Tanzania.
Avert says South Africa has the largest and most high-profile HIV epidemic in the world, with an estimated 6,3 million people living with the disease in 2013. In the same year, there were 330 000 new infections, while 200 000 South Africans died from Aids-related illnesses.
South Africa has the largest anti-retroviral treatment programme globally and these efforts have been largely financed by domestic resources. The country now invests more than $1 billion annually to run its HIV and Aids programmes. However, HIV prevalence remains high (19,1%) among the general population, although it varies markedly between regions.
Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi acknowledged that the youth, particularly young girls are the most vulnerable to HIV infection.
“A young woman between the ages of 15 and 25 is four times more likely to get infected than a boy the same age, and that phenomenon is happening in the whole of Southern and Eastern Africa,” he said in an interview with EyeWitness News.
The minister said it is difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of the discrepancy in infection rates, but cited violence against women and children as one of the factors.
“There was a time when men believed that if you sleep with a girl who is a virgin you are likely to be cured of HIV if you are HIV-positive,” he said, adding that patriarchy also had a role to play.
Earlier this year, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/Aids (UNAids) announced that taking a fast-track approach over the next five years will allow the world to end the Aids epidemic by 2030. South Africa is committed to eradicating HIV by the year 2030.
“With this target in mind in the next 15 years, we will be extraordinarily busy, maybe even more busy then we were in the past 30 years of HIV and Aids,” Motsoaledi said.