Teenage girls are significantly impacted by the global AIDS crisis, with around 30 adolescents becoming infected with the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, every hour, according to a new UNICEF report.
Out of the 30 hourly infections in 2017, about 20 were girls aged 15 to 19, which represents a "crisis of health as well as a crisis of agency", according to UNICEF. Limited access to education, a lack of economic autonomy and a lack of decision-making power, including over their own health, expose them to intimate partner violence, limit their ability to practise safer s3x and limit their ability to benefit from HIV and s3xual and reproductive health services, making them more vulnerable to HIV infection.
Last year, 130,000 youngsters aged 19 and under died from AIDS, while 430,000 - nearly 50 every hour - were newly infected, the agency said.
Around 1.8 million people became newly infected with HIV and around 50 countries experienced a rise in new HIV infections during past year, according to Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS, who was speaking at the ongoing International AIDS Conference in the Netherlands.
"The epidemic's spread among adolescent girls is being fuelled by early sex, including with older males, forced sex, powerlessness in negotiating about sex, poverty, and lack of access to confidential counselling and testing services", it pointed out.
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Activist and actress Charlize Theron highlighted this issue in her own speech to the conference, saying that the AIDS crisis was "not just about sex or sexuality", but also about "the second-class status of girls and women worldwide". She said, "We need to make girls and women secure enough economically that they don't have to turn to sex work.We need to make sure they have the right information about how HIV is transmitted and how to protect themselves".
"About two-thirds of these will be girls or young women", said Aleya Khalifa of Unicef.
Robert Matiru, director of operations for Unitaid, which funds HIV drug projects, said young people are disproportionately affected by the epidemic that has claimed some 35 million lives since it erupted in the 1980s. The country still has 12 to 14 percent of adults who are HIV positive but is on a path to meet United Nations goals to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030.
This requires limiting infections to 500,000 per year by 2020, yet last year they numbered 1.8 million.
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.