Why are young people vulnerable to HIV?

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Image: AVERT

The following is an excerpt from a paper prepared by AVERT.

Young people are vulnerable to HIV at two stages of their lives; the first decade of life when HIV can be transmitted from mother-to-child, and the second decade of life when adolescence brings new vulnerability to HIV.

There is a lack of data showing the proportion of young people infected at each stage, making it difficult to roll out HIV services specific to each group.

HIV transmission in the first decade of life

In 2013, an estimated 240,000 children were infected with HIV from their mother during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding. Many of these children were linked to care as infants, and they need to be supported to adhere to their HIV treatment in adolescence and into adulthood.

This becomes difficult with pressures such as puberty, increased risky behaviours, changes to their HIV treatment needs and new responsibility for their own health. These explain why some young people stop adhering to antiretroviral treatment (ART) correctly during their adolescent years.

HIV transmission in the second decade of life

Unprotected sex is the most common cause of HIV among young people, with sharing infected needles second. Adolescence is often associated with experimentation of risky sexual and drug-related behaviours, increasing a young person’s vulnerability to HIV.

For some, this is a result of not having the correct knowledge about HIV and how to prevent it, highlighting the need for HIV and sexual and reproductive health education. For others, it is the result of being forced to have unprotected sex, or to inject drugs.

Whilst programmes to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT) have been hugely successful in recent years, reducing new infections among adolescents is more difficult. There are many factors that put young people at an elevated risk of HIV.

Read the full analysis on the AVERT website.

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