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Why are cases of HIV infections on the rise among girls?

January 2, 2024

According to a recent global snapshot released by UNICEF, the burden of HIV disproportionately falls on adolescent girls and children in certain regions of the world. Although children and adolescents aged 19 and below account for only 7% of HIV infections, they make up 15% of deaths related to AIDS-related illnesses. Overall, the global incidence of HIV has decreased from previous levels. However, the concerning snapshot released by UNICEF reveals that the crisis still persists for many adolescent girls and children in several regions.


In 2022, 99,000 girls and children died from HIV-related causes or AIDS in its advanced and severe stage. The most affected are girls and children in Eastern and Southern Africa, followed by West and Central Africa, East Asia and the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean, and South Asia.


The increasing incidence of HIV infection among young girls can be attributed to several factors. These include the early initiation of sexual activity, engagement in intergenerational relationships, high vulnerability due to socioeconomic circumstances, involvement in transactional sex, early marriage, limited access to education and lower levels of school attendance, gender-related power imbalances and violence, as well as a lack of services specifically tailored to meet the needs of adolescents and youth. Over 90% of pediatric HIV infections are transmitted from infected mothers during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding.


The WHO states that without better access to diagnosis and treatment, 50% of HIV-infected children will die before the age of 2, and 80% will not survive beyond their 5th birthday.


The impact of HIV on children is particularly severe as their young immune systems are unable to resist infection like adults. These children subsequently experience various health problems, including ear and sinus infections, sepsis, pneumonia, tuberculosis, urinary tract infections, gastrointestinal diseases, skin conditions, and meningitis.


The WHO recommends testing infants born to HIV-infected mothers at 2 months of age, during the breastfeeding period, and at the end of breastfeeding to mitigate ongoing transmission risks.