Ending the AIDS Epidemic Among Adolescents

Representatives from the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the Government of Kenya, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, the United Nation’s Children’s Fund, and other multilateral organizations participated in a high-profile event in Nairobi to launch ALL IN – a new platform for action to end AIDS among adolescents.  While major advances have been made in the effort to achieve an AIDS-free generation, controlling the epidemic among adolescents is falling behind.  Consider these sobering facts:
AIDS is the leading cause of death for adolescents in Africa and the second leading cause of death among adolescents globally;
Just one in four children and adolescents under the age of 15 has access to life-saving antiretroviral treatment as of 2013;
Millions of adolescents living with HIV/AIDS contracted the virus through mother-to-child transmission, have been lost to follow-up, and have not been diagnosed; and
AIDS-related deaths are declining in all age groups, except children aged 10-19.
The ALL IN, platform for action focuses on comprehensive care and treatment for adolescents by encouraging strategic changes in policy and engaging more young people in the effort. It focuses on four key action areas: engaging, mobilizing, and empowering adolescents as leaders and actors of social change; improving data collection to better inform programming; encouraging innovative approaches to reach adolescents with essential HIV services adapted to their needs; and placing the HIV/AIDS epidemic among adolescents firmly on the global political agenda to spur concrete action and to mobilize resources.
To achieve an AIDS-free generation, we have to prevent the spread of HIV and ensure those who are living with HIV/AIDS know their status, receive treatment, and are virally suppressed. In our efforts to control the epidemic, we must address the challenges that remain and include adolescents in the conversation. PEPFAR has had a longstanding commitment to the youth in sub-Saharan Africa. Since 2004, we have invested over $4 billion in HIV prevention and treatment programs for youth — and more than $432 million of that was invested in Kenya.  Last year alone, PEPFAR invested about $807 million globally and nearly $66 million in Kenya–comprehensively supporting children and adolescents. The future of sub-Saharan Africa rests in the health and well-being of the youth and that is why PEPFAR launched two new initiatives that increase the program’s ability to reach youth. 
The Accelerating Children’s HIV Treatment (ACT) initiative is funded by PEPFAR and the U.K.-based Children’s Investment Fund Foundation. It will enable 300,000 more children living with HIV/AIDS to receive life-saving medication. AIDS-related deaths among adolescents have been on the increase and the ACT initiative will help us save lives so children can live with HIV instead of die from AIDS.  The United States is committed to working with partner countries and others to close the health gap that leaves adolescent girls and young women particularly vulnerable to HIV infection. PEPFAR is also working with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Nike Foundation, through the DREAMS initiative, to reduce new HIV infections in adolescent girls and young women, who have a higher risk of HIV infection than boys and men their same age.
Learn more about PEPFAR, the U.S. government’s work in Kenya, and commitment to youth in Africa: www.PEPFAR.gov, nairobi.usembassy.gov, and Young African Leaders Initiative.
About the authors: Deborah L. Birx, M.D., serves as the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator and U.S. Representative for Global Health Diplomacy and Robert F. Godec serves as the U.S. Ambassador to Kenya.  Follow Ambassador Birx on twitter @PEPFAR and Ambasador Godec on twitter @BobGodec.