Zimbabwe and 11 other African countries have signed up to be part of the new global alliance to end HIV/AIDS in children by 2030.
The alliance was launched on Monday at the just-ended International AIDS Conference in Montreal, Canada, to ensure no child living with HIV is denied treatment by the end of the decade, and to prevent new infant HIV infections.
Established by UNICEF, World Health Organisation, and UNAIDS, the alliance will include civil society movements, including the Global Network of People Living with HIV, international partners, PEPFAR and the Global Fund.
Data released in the 2022 UNAIDS Global AIDS Update shows that only nearly half, 52 percent, of children living with HIV are on life-saving treatment, far behind adults where more than three quarters, 76 percent, are receiving antiretroviral treatment.
Speaking at the launch of the alliance in Montreal, Health and Child Care Deputy Minister Dr John Mangwiro said in Zimbabwe, only 73 percent of children with HIV were on treatment in 2021, behind the adult treatment coverage of 94 percent.
“It is a sad reality that today, we are still recording 150 000 new HIV infections among children globally,” he said. “In 2021, 5 000 of the 150 000 new HIV infections occurred in Zimbabwe. And yet our goal is to reach the 95 95 95 targets for both children and adults living with HIV.”
Dr Mangwiro said the Government was committed to addressing the disparities affecting women and children in terms of accessing treatment.
He said Zimbabwe had convened the National Validation Committee on elimination of vertical transmission of HIV and syphilis as a sign of Government’s commitment to eliminate mother to child transmission of HIV and syphilis and reduce vertical transmission rate from 8,9 percent to less than five percent by 2030.
“With the vision to end AIDS by 2030, we will catalyse and accelerate implementation towards identifying at least 95 percent of children and adolescents living with HIV and initiating 95 percent of them on antiretroviral treatment to reach viral load suppression rates of 95 percent,” said Dr Mangwiro.
The global alliance will integrate lessons learnt from past initiatives such as the Global Plan and the Start Free, Stay Free, AIDS Free framework.
It will focus on three pillars namely: early testing and optimised treatment for infants, children, and adolescents living with HIV; closing the treatment gap for pregnant and breastfeeding women living with HIV and optimising retention in care and preventing new HIV infections among pregnant and breastfeeding women.
Dr Mangwiro welcomed the opportunity for South to South learning provided for in the alliance, as well as the additional technical assistance and advocacy for more investments to support implementation that will help countries achieve the 95 95 95 targets for pregnant women, children and adolescents living with HIV.
The other 11 countries are Angola, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.
UNAIDS executive director Ms Winnie Byanyima said the wide gap in treatment coverage between children and adults was an outrage.
“Through this alliance, we will channel that outrage into action,” she said. “By bringing together new improved medicines, new political commitment, and the determined activism of communities, we can be the generation who end AIDS in children.
“We can win this – but we can only win together.”
UNICEF executive director Ms Catherine Russell said the launch of the Global Alliance to end AIDS in Children was an important step forward.
She reiterated UNICEF’s commitment to working alongside all the partners to achieve an AIDS-free future.
“Despite progress to reduce vertical transmission, increase testing and treatment, and expand access to information, children around the world are still far less likely than adults to have access to HIV prevention, care, and treatment services,” she said.
WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Gheberyesus said no child should be born with or grow up with HIV, and no child with HIV should go without treatment.
“The fact that only half of children with HIV receive antiretrovirals is a scandal, and a stain on our collective conscience,” he said.
“The Global Alliance to End AIDS in Children is an opportunity to renew our commitment to children and their families to unite, to speak and to act with purpose and in solidarity with all mothers, children and adolescents.”