UNICEF Releases 2013 Report on HIV/AIDS and Children

By Rachel Eisenberg | December 3, 2013

According to a newly released UNICEF report, only one in three children eligible for treatment in the 22 priority countries had access to antiretroviral therapy in 2012.

Nigel Barker/Tanzania

Last Friday, UNICEF released Towards an AIDS-Free Generation: Children and AIDS Sixth Stocktaking Report, 2013. This is the only report released by the United Nations that focuses solely on children and HIV. It highlights the work being done around the world to prevent HIV/AIDS in children and to treat those who are HIV-positive.

The report notes the significant progress made towards an AIDS-free generation as demonstrated through increased access to services that prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT) in 22 priority countries.  Ninety percent of new HIV infections among children occur in those countries—as is outlined in the Global Plan Towards the Elimination of New HIV Infections Among Children by 2015 and Keeping Their Mothers Alive.

In 2010, only 49 percent of pregnant women living with HIV in the 22 priority countries received antiretroviral drugs to prevent HIV transmission to their babies—in 2012 that number had increased to 62 percent. The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) has contributed significantly to these efforts to increase access to services and advance the global goal of an AIDS-free generation.

However, to achieve an AIDS-free generation, more children need access to antiretroviral therapy (ART). According to UNICEF’s report, in the 22 priority countries only one in three children eligible for treatment had access to ART in 2012. Globally, only 34 percent of children living with HIV have access to ART, compared to 64 percent of adults.

The UNICEF report highlights EGPAF’s Lesotho program for its initiative to increase the number of HIV-infected infants receiving treatment. EGPAF’s presumptive diagnosis program, supported by Lesotho’s Ministry of Health, trains maternal and child nurses to diagnose infants with severe HIV disease immediately so they do not have to wait 6-12 weeks for HIV test results before initiating ART. This program is an innovative step forward in improving early infant diagnosis.

One important challenge outlined in UNICEF’s report is the need for expanded programming for all HIV-exposed children, aligned with broader child survival efforts. This includes using existing health activities, such as routine immunizations, for HIV testing and care—and therefore reaching the children of HIV-positive mothers who did not access antenatal PMTCT care with lifesaving PMTCT services.

UNICEF notes that “an AIDS-free generation means a generation in which all children are born free of HIV and remain so for the first two decades of life.” UNICEF recognizes that HIV-infected and HIV-exposed children face a second “wave of vulnerability” as they move into adolescence, which leads to barriers in accessing services. This report helps to identify those barriers and places additional focus on the need for increased access to services for children throughout the first two decades of their lives.

An AIDS-free generation is within our reach and EGPAF will continue to work with partners to make this a reality.

Click here to learn more about EGPAF’s work to create a generation free of HIV.

Rachel Eisenberg is EGPAF's Public Policy Associate Officer based in Washington, D.C.