MANILA, Philippines – The Asia-Pacific region is facing a “hidden epidemic” of HIV among adolescents with around 220,000 infected teens, according to a new report of the Asia-Pacific Inter-Agency Task Team on Young Key Populations.
The inter-agency team includes the United Nations Children’s Fund and Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS.
The report showed the 220,000 adolescents with HIV live in large cities like Manila, Bangkok, Hanoi and Jakarta. In 2014, it was estimated that of the 50,000 new infections, adolescents aged 15-19 accounted for 15 percent of the cases.
The report, titled “Adolescents: Under the Radar in the Asia-Pacific AIDS Response,” also stated that although new HIV infections are falling overall, they are rising among adolescents from key populations, in particular young gay men and other men who have sex with men.
The rise in new infections coincides with an increase in risky behavior, such as multiple sexual partners and inconsistent condom use.
The report showed the HIV burden among adolescents falls heaviest on 10 countries in the region, which together account for 98 percent of adolescents aged 10 to 19 living with HIV in Asia-Pacific.
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These are: Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.
Among countries where data are available, Papua New Guinea and the Philippines have the highest proportion of adolescents living with HIV, accounting for almost 10 percent of total people living with HIV in each country.
In the Philippines, new HIV infections among 15- to 19-year-olds have risen by 50 percent over four years, from an estimated 800 in 2010 to 1,210 in 2014.
In South Asia, AIDS-related deaths among 10- to 19-year-olds have almost quadrupled, from around 1,500 in 2001 to 5,300 in 2014, while in East Asia and the Pacific, deaths have increased from 1,000 to 1,300 over the same period.
“Adolescence is a time of transition and risk-taking, as children navigate the difficult journey to adulthood,” said Daniel Toole, UNICEF regional director for East Asia and the Pacific.
Toole said that UNICEF is working with governments throughout the Asia-Pacific region to ensure they meet their obligations to protect adolescents’ health, including by providing access to adolescent-sensitive HIV testing and treatment services.
Adolescents at higher risk of HIV include gay men and other men who have sex with men, transgender people, injecting drug users and people who buy and sell sex.
Based on the report, it will not be possible to end the AIDS epidemic as a public health threat by 2030 without tackling the epidemic among adolescents.
To transform the situation, the report recommends that governments develop better data on adolescents, strategies for HIV prevention and adolescent-specific laws and policies.
These should include comprehensive sexuality education in schools and through social media, information on where to get an HIV test, condom use and HIV testing and treatment services designed for adolescents.
It is also vital for adolescents to know their HIV status and get treatment if they need it, but in many countries they are turned away from HIV testing centers.
Only 10 countries in the region are known to have laws and policies enabling independent consent for young people to access HIV testing and related services.
UNAIDS Regional Support Team for Asia director Steve Kraus said, “We want all adolescents regardless of where they live or who they are to enjoy every opportunity to grow into healthy and productive adults.” –Sheila Crisostomo (The Philippine Star)