A new UN report shows that while important progress has been made in addressing the Aids epidemic for children and adolescents, countries failed to meet the goals set for 2018. Picture: Reuters
Cape Town - A new UN report shows that while important progress has been made in addressing the Aids epidemic for children and adolescents, countries failed to meet the goals set for 2018.

South Africa represents 9% of children acquiring HIV through vertical transmission across the world, only topped by Nigeria and Mozambique.

While this seems like a bad indication of how HIV/Aids is being handled, Scott McQuade from the South African branch of UNAids said otherwise.

“South Africa has the largest population of people living with HIV, about 20% of the global burden. Having only 9% of the global burden of vertical transmission indicates the relative success of South Africa in moving towards elimination of mother-to-child transmission.”

The Western Cape further beats the odds. In its 2018 report, the Health Department reported a 0.2% mother-to-child HIV transmission rate at 10 weeks. The most recent data indicate that 12.6% of adults in the Western Cape have HIV, the lowest rate of all provinces. The city and NGOs continue to urge people to get tested and educated about HIV prevention.

The Joint UN Programme on HIV/Aids (UNAids) in partnership with the US President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief introduced the Start Free Stay Free Aids Free framework and goals in 2016. The programme sought to end Aids as a public health threat for children and adolescents by focusing on 23 countries (mainly in Africa and Asia) with high numbers of children, adolescents and young women with HIV.

The programme had three main goals. To ensure 95% of pregnant women living with HIV knew their status and were on antiretroviral therapy (ART), to reduce the number of women aged 10-24 acquiring HIV to fewer than 100000 annually by 2020, and to make sure that 95% of all adolescents 10-19 years of age with HIV are receiving ART by 2020. They missed the mark in 2018 and indicators for 2020 are not looking too optimistic.

The 23 countries in the focus group for the programme represent 86% of pregnant women with HIV, 80% of children ages 0-14 acquiring HIV, 85% of girls and women ages 10-25 acquiring HIV, and 85% of young people ages 0-19 living with HIV.

South Africa was one of the countries included in the programme.

The new UNAids report shows that many of the countries studied made significant strides in reducing HIV among young people, but overall their efforts fell short. Children are a difficult group to target with these efforts. Vertical transmission of HIV is still a major problem and according to the study, only 63% of infants exposed to HIV during birth were tested before two months of age. South Africa tested more than 85% of babies exposed to HIV in the first two months.

But the fight to eradicate HIV and Aids in South Africa needs to be increased. According to the UNAids study, less than 30% of men and women ages 15-24 have a comprehensive understanding of HIV prevention.

This problem is exacerbated by an intense lack of funding to combat Aids - global numbers indicate that funding decreased by $1billion (R14bn) last year.

According to the report, the geographic concentration of where children are most acquiring HIV is so substantial that changes in only a few countries could improve global trends.

Leaders of the global effort to end Aids have called for accelerated efforts.

@m_wench

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Cape Argus