Not less than 300,000 children, representing one child in two minutes, were infected with HIV in 2020, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) disclosed yesterday.
Aside from the rate of infection, the body said 120,000 children died from AIDS-related causes during the same period, which represents one child every five minutes. UNICEF, in the report made available to reporters, said 20,695 children between age zero to nine years, representing one child in every 30 minutes, were newly infected with HIV in Nigeria.
The Nigeria Representative of UNICEF, Mr Peter Hawkins said the latest HIV and AIDS Global Snapshot warned that a prolonged COVID-19 pandemic is deepening the inequalities that have long driven the HIV epidemic, putting vulnerable children, adolescents, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers at increased risk of missing life-saving HIV prevention and treatment services.
His words: “The HIV epidemic enters its fifth decade amid a global pandemic that has overloaded health care systems and constrained access to life-saving services. Meanwhile, rising poverty, mental health issues, and abuse are increasing children and women’s risk of infection.”
Similarly, the UNICEF Executive Director, Henrietta Fore said: “Unless we ramp up efforts to resolve the inequalities driving the HIV epidemic, which are now ex- acerbated by COVID-19, we may see more children infected with HIV and more children losing their fight against AIDS.”
Hawkins raised the alarm that two in five children living with HIV worldwide do not know their status, and just over half of children with HIV are receiving antiretroviral treatment (ART).
According to him, about 30 percent of AIDS-related deaths in 2020 occurred in children in Nigeria saying only about 3.5 per cent of the 1,629,427 Nigerians receiving antiretroviral treatment (ART) are children, revealing a big treatment gap.
The barriers to adequate access to HIV services, he said are longstanding and familiar, including discrimination and gender inequalities. His words “In Nigeria, almost eight out of 10 new infections occurring in adolescents aged 10-19 occur in adolescent girls, while an estimated 83,000 pregnant women in Nigeria are HIV positive. Only 44 per cent of them are on ART, risking continued mother-tochild transmission of HIV.
“The report notes that many countries saw significant disruptions in HIV services due to COVID- 19 in early 2020. HIV infant testing in high burden countries declined by 50 to 70 per cent, with new treatment initiations for children under 14 years of age falling by 25 to 50 per cent.”