Call to reduce HIV infection among youths

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Limpho Sello

A CALL has been made to prioritise lowering HIV infections among adolescents.

According to Ministry of Health Adolescent Health Programme Manager, Mathato Nkuatsana, the infections are not declining at the same rate as other age-groups, which she said had become cause for concern.

Ms Nkuatsana made the remarks in an interview with the Lesotho Times on the side-lines of a one-day meeting held in Maseru this week to formulate strategies to address the challenge.

During the meeting, which was attended by officials from government ministries working with youths, non-governmental organisations and civil society organisations, it was resolved that more attention should be accorded to the plight of adolescents.

Adolescents are youths aged between 13 and 19 years and could be considered the transitional stage from childhood to adulthood. HIV/AIDS has become the leading cause of death for adolescents in Africa. However, just one in four children and adolescents under the age of 15 have access to life-saving antiretroviral treatment globally. Deaths are declining in all age groups, except among 10 – 19 year olds.

To address this inequity, Ms Nkuatsana said, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS), United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and other partners last year launched the All-In campaign, which seeks to achieve better results for adolescents by encouraging strategic changes in policy and engaging more young people in the effort.

“The All-In platform for action and collaboration is based on a vision to end the AIDS epidemic among adolescents by 2030,” she said.

“Among its targets is the reduction of new HIV infections among adolescents by at least 75 percent by 2020 and increasing treatment coverage to 80 percent of adolescents living with HIV by 2020.”

Ms Nkuatsana said the campaign focusses on four key action areas, namely engaging, mobilising and empowering adolescents as leaders and actors of social change; improving data collection to better inform programming and placing adolescent HIV firmly on the political agenda to spur concrete action and mobilise resources.

She also noted that the participation of young people was key to the success of the campaign.

“Adolescents have been neglected and because of that, AIDS-related deaths have declined by about 40 percent for all age groups except young people,” said Ms Nkuatsana.

“On the other hand, two-thirds of the 250 000 new global infections among 15 to 19 year olds were among adolescent girls.”

The meeting, she said, was meant to help address the most pressing gaps in the adolescent HIV/AIDS response.

“Empirical evidence exists on what works and what does not yield results, but we are not applying the knowledge as we should,” Ms Nkuatsana.

“The intentions are good on comprehensive programming and we need practical approaches for a rapid scale-up.”

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