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A young mother visits the hospital to get her son vaccinated, in the town of Nassian, Côte d'Ivoire. She is seropositive, but her three children are all seronegative.
Frank Dejongh/UNICEF

A Teen Girl Gets HIV Every Three Minutes, Startling New UNICEF Report Shows

Why Global Citizens Should Care
Thanks to global initiatives, deaths caused by AIDS have decreased and treatment rates have increased, but high rates of HIV cases continue to plague the world’s most vulnerable people. The UN’s Global Goals include action for good health and well-being for everyone, which you can take action on here.

The global AIDS epidemic is primarily impacting teenagers aged 15 to 19, according to new statistics from UNICEF — and most of them are girls.

The UNICEF report, presented at the International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam this week, said that about 30 teens were infected with HIV every hour in 2017 — 20 of which were girls.

While great progress has been made in recent years, the report shows that failing to reach adolescents impacted by the AIDS crisis is stalling the overall global response.

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For adolescent girls, this is especially evident as the epidemic flourishes when girls are confronted with sex at an early age, be it through forced sex, including with older men, sex work, and more.

"This is a crisis of health as well as a crisis of agency," UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said in the report. "In most countries, women and girls lack access to information, to services, or even just the power to say no to unsafe sex. HIV thrives among the most vulnerable and marginalized, leaving teenage girls at the centre of the crisis."

In 2017, around 1.2 million teenagers between 15 and 19 years old were living with HIV and three out of five of them were girls, according to the report.

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Being forced into sex, being in powerless situations when confronted with sex, living in poverty, and lacking access to confidential counselling and testing services are key factors that increase the spread of HIV/AIDS, the report 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," Angelique Kidjo, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, said in her essay in the report. "And, of course, we need to make sure they have access to any services or medicines they need to keep healthy. Above all, we need to foster girls’ and women’s empowerment — and education is again often the best route to that."

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There are 3 million children between 0 and 19 years old living with HIV — two thirds of which are teenagers between 10 and 19. In 2017 alone, 130,000 people 19 and under died from AIDS.

The death rates in other age groups have decreased since 2010, but the number of deaths among teens aged 15 to 19 have seen no change, the report noted.

UNICEF, UNAIDS and other organizations have worked on a number of initiatives that have led to encouraging results, including an increase in prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, a decrease in new infections among children aged 0 to 4 and an increase in access to treatment for 4 out of 5 pregnant women living with HIV, which minimizes the risk of transmission to babies.

Read More: 6,600 Young Women Were Infected With HIV Every Week in 2017

Still, as deaths decrease and treatments increase, new rates of HIV continue to plague the world’s most vulnerable adolescent girls.

"Women are the most affected by this epidemic — both in the number of infections and as chief caregivers for those with the disease — and should continue to be at the forefront of the fight against it," Fore said. "The fight is far from over."