Adolescents browse through books in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. (Photo: Kevin Tachman)
In November 2013, TREAT Asia joined regional partners in releasing a report calling for governments and policy makers across the Asia-Pacific region to change their national HIV programs to better address the complicated medical and social challenges facing HIV-positive adolescents. The report, Lost in Transitions: Current Issues Faced by Adolescents Living with HIV in Asia Pacific, was produced through a partnership with UNICEF, UNESCO, the World Health Organization (WHO), and led by the Asia Pacific Network of People living with HIV (APN+). “We have been talking for years about the challenges of life-long therapy, and these youth are now living through them,” says Annette Sohn, M.D., amfAR vice president and director of TREAT Asia.
According to UNAIDS estimates, 230,000 children under the age of 15 were living with HIV in the Asia-Pacific in 2012, and 58,000 adolescents aged 10–19 were newly infected. Too often, national HIV strategies do not address adolescents’ unique needs. “The current response to HIV in the Asia-Pacific is failing adolescents living with HIV,” says Shiba Phurailatpam, regional coordinator of APN+.
Lost in Transitions discusses the experiences of perinatally infected adolescents and those who acquired HIV during adolescence as they cope with adhering to antiretroviral therapy (ART), moving from pediatric to adult care, dating and disclosing their status, and experiencing HIV-related stigma and discrimination. The researchers conducted youth-led focus groups in four countries and in person-interviews with adolescents, medical practitioners, caregivers, and social workers in five countries to understand and document their needs as they tackle these challenges.
The report also outlines what community organizations, networks of people living with HIV, youth organizations, governments, policy makers, and donors need to do to ensure adolescents’ health and well-being. These recommendations include investing in better data that track HIV-positive young people into adulthood and ensuring that they have uninterrupted access to effective ART and other services deemed critical to their health. A UNICEF Stocktaking Report released in December further emphasized and validated these findings on a global scale. Additionally, HIV-positive adolescents need to have access to safe housing and peer support and to receive comprehensive sex education that addresses their fears and anxieties about personal relationships. “It is time for pediatric and adult HIV care services in Asia to work together to create stronger bridges to ensure that we keep adolescents healthy and in care,” says Sohn. “We cannot fail them now.”