‘Asia-Pacific region faces epidemic of HIV among adolescents’

United Nations: India, China and Pakistan are among the 10 countries in the Asia-Pacific that account for 98 percent of youngsters aged 10 to 19 living with HIV, according to a UN report which said the region is facing a “hidden epidemic” of HIV among adolescents.

The report ‘Adolescents: Under the Radar in the Asia-Pacific AIDS Response’, published by the Asia-Pacific Inter-Agency Task Team on Young Key Populations, which includes UNICEF and the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS warned that the AIDS epidemic cannot be ended as a public health threat by 2030 without tackling the issue of adolescents.

In 2014, 220,000 adolescents aged 10-19 were estimated to be living with HIV in Asia and the Pacific.

India is among the 10 countries in the region accounting for 98 per cent of those aged 10 to 19 living with HIV.

The other countries are Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

Prevalence is particularly high in large cities like Mumbai, Hanoi, Jakarta, Bangkok, Chiang Mai and other urban areas.

The 2014 figure accounts for almost 15 per cent of all new cases in the region.

Although new infections are falling overall, they are rising among adolescents, coinciding with an increase in risky behaviour, such as multiple sexual partners and inconsistent condom use.

The report, released ahead of World AIDS Day today, added that in hotspot urban areas, HIV prevalence can be many times the national prevalence.

In general, female sex workers in Asia and the Pacific are 29 times more likely to be living with HIV compared with all women of reproductive age, according to a global systematic review in low and middle-income countries.

“The Asia-Pacific region is facing a hidden epidemic of HIV among adolescents, with an estimated 50,000 new infections in 2014 among those aged 15 to 19,” the report said calling on governments to develop specifically targeted prevention strategies.

Those at highest risk include gay men and other men who have sex with men, transgender people, injecting drug users, and people who buy and sell sex.

In India, HIV prevalence among men who have sex with men is 3.5 per cent for those younger than 25 years while it is 4.9 per cent for men older than 25.

HIV prevalence among sex workers under 25 years of age in India was 1.7 per cent for the 2007-2014 period.

HIV prevalence among people who inject drugs was?7.7 percent among?those?older than 25 years and was 5.3 per cent for those?younger than 25 in the country during the?2011-2014 period.

The report called on governments to provide access to adolescent-sensitive HIV testing and treatment and develop better data and adolescent-specific laws and policies, including comprehensive sex education in schools and through social media, information on where to get an HIV test, and condom use.

“It is 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 centres,” it stressed.

“In Asia and the Pacific ? as worldwide ? adolescents have been largely neglected as a distinct group in focused efforts to prevent HIV transmission and prolong the life of people living with the virus,” Toole and UNAIDS Regional Director Steven J Kraus wrote in a joint foreword to the report.

“The result is rising infections among 10-19 year-olds at risk of HIV, and an increase in the number of AIDS-related deaths. These are preventable deaths. As parents, teachers and leaders ? as societies ? we ask that children in their second decade of life assume ever-growing responsibilities as they approach adulthood.

“More than half of the world’s 1. 2 billion adolescents live in Asia and the Pacific and just four countries in the region ? India, China, Indonesia and Pakistan ? have a combined adolescent population of 500 million.”

Survey data from Asia and the Pacific reveal that a high percentage of women who sell sex do so for the first time as adolescents, with many beginning in their early teens.

In India, 40 per cent of the estimated three million females in the sex industry are under 18.

The report further said that adult access to Antiretroviral therapy (ART) has massively expanded in Asia and the Pacific.

Around 1.8 million people in the region were receiving ART at the end of 2014 (up from 70,000 in 2003) ? a coverage rate of 36 per cent.

“For those who stick to their regime, ART can lead to a healthy and fulfilling life. Progress has been especially robust in China, India, Papua New Guinea and Vietnam, while Cambodia and Thailand have consolidated their already high ART coverage,” it said.