Adolescence a ‘dangerous time’ for young girls – particularly in sub-Saharan Africa

22 November 2016

UNAIDS’ annual World AIDS Day report shows that young women transitioning into womanhood face complex challenges that are stalling progress in halting new HIV infections.

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Young people meet as part of the anti-HIV and AIDS youth group at Bangwe Secondary School in Blantyre, Malawi.

New HIV infections among adolescent girls and young women fell by only 6% between 2010 and 2015. This puts the HIV response severely off-track to reach the target of less than 100,000 new HIV infections among this group by 2020. With 7,500 women aged 15-24 becoming infected with HIV every week in 2015, a staggering 74% reduction is needed in the four years to 2020 to reach the first of the UNAIDS Fast-Track strategy targets.

Adolescents and young women are not at risk in isolation. They are at risk because of social and cultural norms that, at the root, are about gender inequality.

According to the latest UNAIDS report released on Monday (21 November), Get on the Fast Track: the life-cycle approach to HIV, 35% of all new global HIV infections were among young people (15-24); 20% were among young women, and 25% were among young women in sub-Saharan Africa alone.

At the report launch, UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé remarked: “Young women are facing a triple threat […] They are at high risk of HIV infection, have low rates of HIV testing, and have poor adherence to treatment. The world is failing young women and we urgently need to do more.”

More generally, young women exposed to violence during childhood and adolescence, and intimate partner violence, have been shown to be up to 50% more likely to get HIV. Women living with HIV who experience violence are also less likely to adhere to treatment and have higher viral loads.

“Adolescents and young women are not at risk in isolation. They are at risk because of social and cultural norms that, at the root, are about gender inequality,” said AVERT CEO Sarah Hand. “Any ongoing effort to reach this group, and particularly those living in sub-Saharan Africa, needs to be done honestly and with a willingness to address the complex drivers of what makes them vulnerable.”

Photo credit:
©AVERT/ Corrie Wingate. Photos used for illustrated purposes only. They do not imply the health status of any person in the photo.

Written by Caitlin Mahon

Knowledge Sharing & News Officer

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