A teenage girl aged 15 to 19 is infected every three minutes with HIV, Unicef said Wednesday, alerting to a forgotten public health crisis.
Girls are the victims of two-thirds of infections worldwide in this age group, according to data presented at the 22nd International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam.
“In most countries, women and girls do not have access to the necessary information and services or even have the opportunity to refuse unprotected sex,” the Executive Director of Unicef, Henrietta Fore, said in a statement.
“HIV is spreading rapidly among the most vulnerable and marginalized, placing adolescent girls at the heart of the crisis,” she added.
In 2017, 130,000 deaths of people under the age of 20 were linked to AIDS and 430,000 new HIV infections occurred in this age group. Among teenagers aged 15 to 19 the number of deaths is stagnating, while in other age groups it has been falling since 2010.
According to Unicef “early sexual intercourse, including with older men, forced relationships, the power struggle that does not allow to say no, poverty, and lack of access to health services, confidential advice and tests” are the main reasons for this crisis among teenage girls.
“We know it’s linked to the inferior status of women and girls around the world,” South African actress Charlize Theron told conference delegates.
“As long as we do not reach the young people and stop the epidemic at home (…), we will not achieve our goals,” said the director of operations of Unitaid (an international organization for medicinal aid) Robert Matiru.
According to the International AIDS Society (IAS), four out of ten African teenagers have already experienced physical or sexual violence from a man in their intimacy. This NGO denounces the lack of a policy of prevention against this violence or protection for youth in many countries.
The organization also works to raise awareness of adolescents. “Young people have grown up, they are incredibly mobile, they move, they have forgotten that HIV is a risk, and we must, we can not stop passing on this message,” says Linda-Gail Bekker, director of organization.