By Ajuma Edwina Ameh
COVID-19 has interrupted vital HIV treatment and service delivery in one third of high burden countries, putting countless more lives at risk, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said in a report released on Tuesday.
The international organization stated that COVID-19 crisis has further exacerbated inequities in access to life-saving HIV services for children, adolescents and pregnant mothers everywhere, adding that children are being left behind in the fight against HIV.
The report which was released in commemoration of the World AIDS day, disclosed that almost nine out of 10 children and adolescents of the estimated 2.8 million children aged 0–19 living with HIV are in sub-Saharan Africa, with Nigeria accounting for 15 per cent of global AIDS-related deaths in children and adolescents globally.
Annually, the world commemorates World AIDS Day on 1 December. People around the world unite to show support for people living with HIV and to remember those who have died from AIDS-related illnesses.
“The world is still struggling with the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic, but there is now hope for a vaccine. But we must remember that there is no vaccine for HIV.
“Hundreds of thousands of children continue to suffer the impacts of the HIV epidemic. Children are still getting infected at alarming rates, and they are still dying from AIDS. Even with improvements in recent years, HIV treatment access for children and adolescents is unacceptably low, and much more needs to be done to ensure children get the treatment they need and deserve,” UNICEF Nigeria Representative, Peter Hawkins, said.
UNAIDS’ HIV service disruption data, cited in the report, illustrated the impact of necessary control measures, supply chain disruptions, lack of personal protective equipment, and the redeployment of healthcare workers on HIV services.
“In the months of April and May, coinciding with partial and full lockdowns, pediatric HIV treatment and viral load testing in children in some countries declined between 50 to 70 per cent, and new treatment initiation fell by 25 to 50 per cent.
“Similarly, health facility deliveries and maternal treatment were also reported to have reduced by 20 to 60 per cent, maternal HIV testing and ART initiation declined by 25 to 50 per cent, and infant testing services declined by approximately 10 per cent.
“Though the easing of control measures and the strategic targeting of children and pregnant mothers have successfully led to a rebound of services in recent months, challenges remain, and the world is still far from achieving the global 2020 pediatric HIV targets,” the report states.
Additional 2019 data report by UNICEF showed that 150,000 children aged 0-9 years were newly infected with HIV globally, bringing the total number of children in this age group living with HIV to 1.1 million.
“In Nigeria 22,000 children aged 0-14 years were newly infected with HIV, bringing the total number of children in this age group living with HIV to 150,000.
“130,000 adolescent girls were newly infected with HIV in 2019 globally, compared with 44,000 adolescent boys. In Nigeria, 7,100 adolescent girls were newly infected with HIV in 2019, compared with 3,100 adolescent boys.
“The total number of AIDS-related deaths of children and adolescents was 110,000 globally; 79,000 aged 0-9 years and 34,000 aged 10-19. In Nigeria, the total number of AIDS-related deaths of children and adolescents was 16,200; 13,000 aged 0-14 years and 3,200 aged 10-19,” the 2019 data showed.
The report calls on all governments to protect, sustain and accelerate progress in fighting childhood HIV by maintaining essential health services and strengthening health systems.