Children, Adolescents and HIV. 18/5/2017

Published by OIKOUMENE

Globally about 1,800,000 children aged 0-14 are living with HIV, and only half of them are receiving the treatment they need to live a healthy and long life. Without treatment, about one third of children with HIV will die by their first birthday and half will die by their second.

One of the main reasons for the low treatment coverage is poor testing services for children. In 2015 less than half of HIV-exposed infants globally received early infant diagnostic services within the first two months of life as recommended. There is also an urgent need to develop fixed-dose-combinations (FDC) of pediatric antiretroviral formulations that are palatable and affordable. Finally, huge efforts are needed to retain children in treatment.

In addition, in 2015, there were also 1.8 million adolescents between the ages of 10 and 19 years were living with HIV. Adolescents represent a growing share of people living with HIV; in 2015, 250,000 adolescents between the age of 15 and 19 were newly infected with HIV. Only 13 per cent of adolescent girls and 9 per cent of adolescent boys aged 15 -19 in sub-Saharan Africa have been tested for HIV in the past 12 months and received the result of the last test.

If current trends continue, hundreds of thousands more will become HIV-positive in the coming years. Additionally, AIDS-related deaths among adolescents have increased over the past decade while decreasing among all other age groups. It is shocking that more adolescents die every year from AIDS-related illnesses than from any other cause except road accidents.

Political commitment and faith-based action

The June 2016 United Nations Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS describes treatment levels for children and adolescents “unacceptably low” and in response Member State governments agreed that there should be, “special emphasis on providing 1.6 million children (0-14 years of age) with antiretroviral therapy by 2018 and that children, adolescents and adults living with HIV know their status and are immediately offered and sustained on affordable and accessible quality treatment to ensure viral load suppression and underscore in this regard the urgency of closing the testing gap”.

These ambitious targets were achieved in large part by advocacy undertaken by civil society and faith based organizations (FBOs) working together with key UN partners and Member State governments. This includes the World Council of Churches - Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (WCC-EAA) which has been actively advocating for HIV treatment for children since 2006, raising awareness on the urgent need for HIV child-friendly and age appropriate medicines and by mobilizing faith-based advocacy on pediatric AIDS.

The WCC-EAA continues its effective advocacy for children and adolescents living with HIV at both global and national levels to ensure that the ambitious pediatric treatment and adolescents’ targets are to be achieved by 2018. This work is supported in part by the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF).

The WCC-EAA is raising awareness among influential faith leaders and leaders of faith-run health and HIV services about the global 2018 HIV treatment targets for children and adolescents. With a focus on Kenya, the WCC-EAA will help partners identify and remove barriers to achieving the country pediatric testing and treatment targets.

FBOs play a very significant role in Kenya’s health service delivery, with faith-based health facilities comprising 11.3 per cent of all health care delivery and 70 per cent of the non-governmental facilities in the not-for-profit sector. The WCC-EAA has had a specific initiative in Kenya for several years called the Framework for Dialogue that provides practical steps to help faith communities and people living with HIV effectively address key issues of concern to those most affected at national levels. CIFF has also been working in Kenya for several years.

Together, WCC-EAA and CIFF bring partners and expertise that can ensure the youngest in our societies receive life-giving HIV treatment.

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