Only political will from global leaders — including the U.S. — can get us on track to eliminate HIV in children.
Just a year ago it seemed we might eliminate AIDS in children by 2020. Today, it’s clear progress has stalled in many areas.
The latest statistics are as surprising as they are sobering:
- This year’s UNAIDS report estimated there were 160,000 new HIV infections in children in 2016 — down only 10,000 from the year before, which is only half the decrease we saw between 2014 and 2015.
- Similarly, the percentage of women with HIV who are pregnant or breastfeeding and have access to treatment — which prevents transmission to their children — has plateaued around 75% since 2014, after a jump of 7 percentage points the year before.
- Children are also being left behind in access to lifesaving treatment. Only 43% of infants and children in need have HIV treatment, well below the figure for adults, more than half of whom have access. Tragically, half of children living with HIV die before their second birthdays without access to ART.
Far from having childhood AIDS on the run, we’re losing ground.
Conquering AIDS has been a coordinated global effort in recent years, and it will take true commitment from global leaders, including the U.S., to move the needle on eliminating AIDS in children. On National HIV Testing Day in June, President Trump vowed to continue the fight: “My Administration is determined to … continue supporting domestic and global health programs that prioritize testing and treatment for HIV/AIDS.” Yet PEPFAR’s new epidemic control strategy, released in September, to push the number of new HIV infections below the number of AIDS deaths does not reflect data on children. To turn words into actions and continue the hard work needed to end AIDS as a public health threat, global and country-level efforts must not overlook children.
There are reasons to be hopeful we can give children a stronger focus in our efforts to end AIDS. Innovation will be key, because the battle against pediatric AIDS is not easy. For example, Point-of-Care Early Infant Diagnosis technology is helping countries to diagnose the youngest infants within an hour of testing,…