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UNICEF Study: AIDS is Second Leading Cause of Death Among Adolescents

The rate of deaths has tripled since 2000.

| 3 min read

The rate of deaths has tripled since 2000.

In an eye-opening new study from UNICEF, researchers have found that the number of adolescent deaths from AIDS has tripled in the past 15 years. The majority of the cases occur in six African countries — South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, India, Mozambique and Tanzania — and predominantly affect girls, with girls aged 15 to 19 accounting for 7 out of 10 new infections.

To put it all in a disturbing perspective, UNICEF reports that 26 adolescents are infected with AIDS every hour, but only one in 10 adolescents in sub-Saharan Africa is tested for HIV.

The UNICEF report was released at a conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, and Craig McClure, the head of UNICEF’s global HIV/AIDS programs, said, “It is critical that young people who are HIV-positive have access to treatment, care and support."

McClure also said it’s important for those who are HIV-negative to have access to education about the disease and how to stay HIV-free.

Sadly, many of the adolescents who die of AIDS were infected with HIV as infants, and then survived into their teenage years without knowing their HIV-positive status. Infants can acquire HIV from their mothers during late pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding, especially if the mother is not receiving antiretroviral therapy.

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However, efforts to curb AIDS infections have made a significant difference in that area of concern.

"The gains we have made on preventing mother-to-child transmission are laudable and to be celebrated," said McClure. "Immediate investments are needed to get lifesaving treatment to children and adolescents who are infected."

While AIDS is the number one leading cause of death among adolescents in Africa, the rest of the world isn’t free of the disease’s deadly grip. According to UNICEF, AIDS is the second leading cause of death among adolescents globally.

However, based on a study on those living with HIV in North America, it seems that the disease doesn’t always have to result in early death. In fact, the life expectancy for young, HIV-positive adults in the United States and Canada (who are receiving antiretroviral therapy) is about the same as that of the general population, the study says.

Researchers from the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and the North American AIDS Cohort Collaboration on Research and Design analyzed data from nearly 23,000 Americans and Canadians who are HIV-positive. These AIDS-infected young adults can expect to live up to about 77 years of age, however, people with a history of injection drug use and non-whites didn’t fare as well — the study estimated lower lifespans for these two groups (respectively 49 and 58).

This study sheds light on the fact that those with higher socioeconomic statuses and access to better healthcare can live with AIDS just as long as you and I. With this knowledge, efforts must be translated into helping AIDS-infected adolescents around the world also have the ability to live longer lives despite their HIV-positive statuses.

As today (December 1) is World AIDS Day, the National Aids Trust (NAT) challenges you to re-think AIDS and unite with other people worldwide in the fight against HIV as well as the stigma that comes along with the disease. Show your support with a red ribbon.

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