Address specific needs of adolescents in HIV services: WHO

 

Windhoek ‑ The World Health Organisation (WHO) is calling on world leaders to review their laws in order to make it easier for adolescents to obtain HIV testing without needing consent from their parents.

Although there have been notably fewer HIV/AIDS-related deaths, a record number of people being treated and a decrease in new cases among children, WHO says a lot still needs to be done to address the specific needs of adolescents both for those living with HIV as well as those who are at risk of infection.

In its recent guidelines released on December 1, and titled “HIV and adolescents: Guidance for HIV testing and counselling and care for adolescents living with HIV”, the health organisation claims that more than two million adolescents between the ages of 10 and 19 years are living with HIV, and many do not receive the care and support that they need to stay in good health and prevent transmission.

In addition, millions more youngsters are at risk of infection. The guideline suggests that adolescents need health services and support, tailored to their needs as they are less likely than adults to be tested for HIV and often need more support than adults to help them maintain care and to stick to treatment.

The document reveals that many young people do not know their HIV status. For example, in sub-Saharan Africa, it is estimated that only 10 percent of young men and 15 percent of young women (15-24 years) know their HIV status and, in other regions, although data is scarce, access to HIV testing and counselling by vulnerable adolescents is consistently reported as being very low.

The guidelines provide recommendations and expert suggestions mainly for policy-makers and national programme managers on prioritising, planning and providing HIV testing, counselling and care services for adolescents.

Director of WHO HIV/AIDS Department, Dr Gottfried Hirnschall, was quoted in the guideline report saying that “Adolescents face difficult and often confusing emotional and social pressures as they grow from children into adults, and often need more support than adults to help them maintain care and to stick to treatment.”

Across sub-Saharan Africa, many young people were infected at birth and today they are faced by the challenges of living with a chronic infection, disclosing the news to friends and family and preventing transmission to sexual partners.

Other barriers that make achieving the dream of an HIV-free generation impossible include harsh laws, inequalities, stigma and discrimination, which prevent them from accessing services that could test, prevent, and treat HIV.

To help health workers put these recommendations into practice, WHO has developed a new online tool, which will be launched in January 2014. It uses practical examples from country programmes that are working closely with young people on HIV issues.

The WHO guideline report coincided with commemoration of the annual World AIDS Day, which was held under the theme: “Getting to zero: zero new HIV infections. Zero discrimination. Zero AIDS-related deaths”.

Meanwhile, the United Nations AIDS agency, UNAIDS, has noted that the world is closing in on Millennium Development Goal 6. Globally the AIDS epidemic has been halted and reversed – the race is on to reach universal access to HIV treatment.

In 2011, UN member states agreed to a 2015 target of reaching 15 million people with HIV treatment.

The agency says new HIV infections among adults and children were estimated at 2.3 million in 2012, a 33 percent reduction since 2001, while new HIV infections among children have been reduced to 260 000 in 2012, a reduction of 52 percent since 2001. 

AIDS-related deaths have also dropped by 30 percent since the peak in 2005, as access to antiretroviral treatment expands.

By the end of 2012, some 9.7 million people in low- and middle-income countries were accessing antiretroviral therapy, an increase of nearly 20 percent in just one year.

In 2012, an estimated 35.3 million people were living with HIV globally; 2.3 million people became newly infected with HIV, while 1.6 million (1.4 million-1.9 million) people died from AIDS-related illnesses.

And despite a flattening in donor funding for HIV, which has remained around the same as 2008 levels, UN noted that domestic spending on HIV has increased, accounting for 53 percent of global HIV resources in 2012.

Total global resources available for HIV in 2012 were estimated at US$18.9 billion, US$3-5 billion short of the US$22-US$24 billion estimated to be needed annually by 2015.

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