Unicef: Over 1 million infant HIV infections prevented

Unicef said more should be done to improve diagnosis and treatment of children.

Candles form a red ribbon during World Aids Day. Picture: AFP.

JOHANNESBURG - The United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) said more than one million infant HIV infections have been prevented over the last 15 years, through effective treatment.

However, the organisation said more should be done to improve diagnosis and treatment of children.

Less than half of children under two months old are tested for HIV infection.

With nearly three million people under the age of 15 living with HIV only one in three are on treatment.

Unicef said this has contributed to aids being the second highest cause of death among teenagers, many of whom were infected at birth and never treated.

The organisation's Craig McClure said, "We're missing opportunities through basic childcare, through basic immunisation of children, where those children exposed to HIV, are either mothers have HIV, are not being tested."

Meanwhile, Unicef has revealed that Aids-related deaths among teenagers across the globe have tripled over the last 15 years.

Research shows the teenage population of HIV positive people is the only group that hasn't seen a decrease in deaths.

Unicef said Aids is the leading cause of death among teenagers in sub-Saharan Africa and the second leading cause in this age group globally.

The organisation's HIV/Aids chief Craig Mcclure said there are several reasons why deaths are still prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa.

"Those who are born with HIV received no diagnoses or no treatment, or children who were on peadiatric treatment somehow slipped out of care."

Girls aged between 15 and 19 are most at risk of infection and Aids-related death.

While the death rate is higher in Sub-Saharan Africa, India and Indonesia, it is Brazil and the US which have the highest rates of new teenage infections.

The organisation said only one in every 10 teenagers in the African region is tested for HIV infection despite having the highest death rate among adolescents.

A number of physiological and social factors have been identified as root causes of high infection among this demographic.

Mcclure said females have a higher genetic risk of contracting HIV.

"HIV transmission is much more efficient through unprotected intercourse from men to women, than it is from women to men."

In addition to genetic factors, he said teenage girls in sub-Saharan Africa are further exposed to infection due to unfavorable social conditions such as poor education standards, early marriage, violence, including sexual violence, as well as economic disparities.

Studies show that adolescent girls also have the lowest knowledge about HIV and Aids, further contributing to their high infection rate.