amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research

UNAIDS Reports Record Number on Antiretroviral Therapy; Warns Young Women Still at High Risk

A new UNAIDS report reveals a rapid increase in the number of people on antiretroviral therapy, yet warns that HIV infection rates remain persistently high among young women in sub-Saharan Africa.

According to Get on the Fast-Track: The life-cycle approach to HIV, as of June 2016, 18.2 million people worldwide had access to life-saving medicines, double the number five years earlier. But the report notes adolescent girls and young women remain particularly vulnerable to HIV infection.

Michel Sidibé, executive director of UNAIDS, Hage Geingob, president of Namibia, and Monica Geingos, First Lady of Namibia Courtesy of UNAIDS. 
From left: Michel Sidibé, executive director of UNAIDS, Hage Geingob, president of Namibia, and Monica Geingos, First Lady of Namibia
Photo courtesy of UNAIDS

In 2015, 7,500 teenagers and young women between the ages of 15 and 24 were infected with HIV every week, the vast majority in southern Africa. Furthermore, data from studies in six African locations showed that girls accounted for 91% of new infections among people aged 15–19 years in southern Africa and 74% in eastern Africa.

"Young women are facing a triple threat," said UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé at the report's launch on November 21 in Windhoek, the capital of Namibia. "They are at high risk of HIV infection, have low rates of HIV testing, and have poor adherence to treatment. The world is failing young women and we urgently need to do more."

UNAIDS is on track to hit its goal of 30 million receiving treatment by 2020, but Sidibé described the progress as "incredibly fragile.” The report warns of the risk of drug resistance and highlights the need to reduce the cost of second- and third-line medication.

“New threats are emerging and if we do not act now we risk resurgence and resistance,” he said. “We have seen this with TB (tuberculosis). We must not make the same mistakes again.”

Antiretroviral therapy is allowing people with HIV to live longer and healthier lives. In 2015, there were more people over the age of 50 living with HIV than ever before—5.8 million.

However, older people living with HIV have up to five times the risk of developing a chronic disease.

A comprehensive strategy is needed to address the increasing long-term health care costs associated with HIV infection, the report states.    

Get on the Fast-Track: the life-cycle approach to HIV outlines the gaps in HIV programming across the life cycle and offers tailored HIV prevention and treatment solutions for every stage of life.

Read the press release here.

Read the full report here.