(HN, December 1, 2010) - More than 1,000 babies are born with HIV every day - and many will die before age two if they do not receive treatment.
However, recent gains in access to treatment have been notable and are saving lives of women and children: last year 53% of HIV-positive pregnant women in low- and middle-income countries received antiretroviral drugs for the prevention of mother-to-child HIV - up from only 15% in 2005. Over the same period the percentage of children under 15 who needed antiretrotrovirals and received them rose from just seven percent to 28%.
Still - the figures reveal that just over half of pregnant women with HIV in developing countries get the drugs necessary to prevent their babies becoming infected. And only about one in four children under 15 needing ARV treatment receive it.
The figures were included in UNICEF's Fifth Stocktaking Report on HIV and AIDS and progress for children. Released yesterday in New York, it is jointly produced by UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).
The report says that the number of young people aged 15-24 living with HIV is declining - from 5.2 million in 2005 to about 5 million in 2009.
And while the dynamics of the epidemic varies from region to region, in most women disproportionately carry the burden of HIV and AIDS - especially in sub-Sahara Africa.
For years, being "overshadowed" by the epidemic, children are now an integrated group in the response.
"The story of how AIDS epidemic is affected children is being re-written. Children are now central to the HIV response and investments on behalf of children have had an impact," the report says.
The authors of the report predict that the elimination of mother-to-child transmission by 2015 "appears within reach."
"We have strong evidence that elimination of mother-to-child transmission is achievable," said Margaret Chan, WHO director general. "Achieving the goal will require much better prevention among women and mothers in the first place."
The report also found that:
- In many sub-Saharan African countries, children who had lost both parents to AIDS are more likely to be in school than before
- progress in decentralizing treatment access has been "unacceptably slow." The report notes that people living in rural and remote areas face many barriers to access - including costs and distance.
- Adolescents living with HIV are a "hidden epidemic." Many with HIV do not access treatment because they have never been tested.
- In Haiti, the January earthquake reduced significantly the number of people living with HIV accessing treatment. The Ministry of Health estimated fewer than 40% of people accessing treatment had been able to continue their treatment; many of the PMTCT service providers were affected.
- Globally, knowledge levels on the disease remain too low: only three countries have attained a level of knowledge 50% or more in both young men and young women (based on surveys between 2005 and 2009).
UNICEF says the big challenge will now be to reach those who fall through the cracks - mostly people who are amongst the poor of the poor and live in towns without HIV clinics.
"To achieve an Aids-free generation we need to do more to reach the hardest hit communities," said Anthony Lake, Unicef's executive director.
Jimmy Kolker, Unicef's chief of HIV/Aids, said: "Over the last five years children who were largely invisible from the Aids response are now at the centre of it."
In a separate statement before world AIDS day on December 1, UNAIDS Director Michel Sidibe said: "Nothing gives me more hope than knowing that an AIDS-free generation is possible in our lifetime.