A UNICEF study has indicated that the continued toll of HIV among young people reflects the rapidly growing youth population in the Sub-Saharan Africa.
A statement released at the 22nd International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2018) in Amsterdam, Netherlands, showed that while the UNICEF study highlighted the ongoing toll of HIV on young people in the region, data from several African countries however, demonstrated how enhanced HIV prevention and treatment programmes could dramatically reduce the impact of the epidemic.
“An analysis conducted by UNICEF estimated that 9.6 million young people aged 15-24 years will be newly infected with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa between 2017 and 2050. About two-thirds of those will be girls or young women,” the UNICEF study states.
The study indicated that the continued toll of HIV among young people reflected the rapidly growing youth population in the region, which is expected to increase by 85 per cent by 2050.
It adds that there had been a slow decline in HIV incidence in that group, which had fallen by some three per cent per year since 2010.
Presenting the data, Aleya Khalifa of UNICEF noted that reducing the HIV burden among young people in sub-Saharan Africa would require better access to HIV prevention, sexual and reproductive health, and targeted testing services.
Linda-Gail Bekker, the president of the International AIDS Society (IAS), said despite extraordinary progress, HIV remained a serious threat to the lives of millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa.
Bekker, who is also the chairperson of the AIDS 2018 Conference, said data presented underscored both the urgent need and the opportunity to invest in expanded HIV prevention and treatment programmes that could turn back the epidemic in Africa.
According to the ‘Expert Consensus Statement on the Science of HIV in the Context of Criminal Law’, 68 countries have criminalised HIV non-disclosure, exposure or transmission while, 33 others were known to have applied other criminal law provisions in similar cases.
The scientists said people living with HIV continued to be accused, arrested, prosecuted and, or convicted for non-disclosure, possible or perceived exposure or transmission of HIV in cases where: no harm was intended; HIV transmission did not occur, was extremely unlikely or impossible; and transmission was neither alleged nor proven.
Bekker said HIV criminalisation laws were ineffective, unwarranted and discriminatory.
“In many cases, these misconceived laws exacerbate the spread of HIV by driving people living with and at risk of infection into hiding and away from treatment services,” she said.
The scientists said the risk of transmission from a single act of unprotected sex was very low, and there was no possibility of HIV transmission during vaginal or anal sex when an HIV-positive partner had an undetectable viral load.
“It is not possible to establish proof of HIV transmission from one individual to another, even with the most advanced scientific tools,” the scientists said.
The scientists added that limited understanding of current HIV science reinforces stigma and can lead to miscarriages of justice while undermining efforts to address the HIV epidemic.