UNAIDS: Most New HIV Infections Among Children Are Preventable

In a sobering new report, UNAIDS estimates that most of the 150,000 new HIV infections among children in 2020 could have been prevented. Nearly half of these children—65,000—acquired HIV as a result of their mothers going undiagnosed and thus untreated during pregnancy, an additional 35,000 because their mothers acquired HIV while they were pregnant or breastfeeding, and 38,000 because women who had previously started treatment did not continue it during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

The report, released January 31, shows missed opportunities to engage adolescent girls and women at risk of HIV infection in prenatal care and HIV services, including prevention and testing, and to ensure that those who are HIV positive receive treatment before pregnancy.

According to UNAIDS, “Women at substantial risk of HIV infection require tailored combination HIV prevention, including pre-exposure prophylaxis, more comprehensive counselling, repeat HIV testing and the provision of self-testing kits for partners.”

These new data follow a UNAIDS report released in July 2021 that showed substantial gaps in treatment coverage for children. Around 800,000 children under 15 who were living with HIV were not on treatment in 2020. Treatment coverage was 74% for adults but just 54% for children.

For more than 15 years, amfAR’s TREAT Asia program has been working to fill those gaps and improve standards of treatment and care for children and adolescents in the Asia-Pacific region. TREAT Asia includes 14 pediatric clinical sites and its Pediatric HIV Observational Database, which includes data from more than 6,400 children and adolescents, generates critical information on disease and treatment patterns across the region.

‘We have the tools and the knowledge to avoid these preventable infections,” said TREAT Asia Director and pediatric HIV specialist Dr. Annette Sohn. “However, while some countries have the resources and political commitment to control or even eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV, many do not. That is where we need to focus our efforts and remind policy makers and donors that pediatric HIV remains a local and a global challenge.”

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