treating hiv in west and central africa
As of 2017, 1.8 million adolescents around the world are living with HIV. This accounts for five percent of total HIV cases. Approximately 1.5 million, or 85 percent, of these adolescents, live in Sub-Saharan Africa. Of this, 61 percent live in Eastern and Southern Africa and 24 percent live in West and Central Africa. The region with the second-highest HIV rates for adolescents in the world is West and Central Africa. Ending HIV in West and Central Africa requires strong national and international efforts to protect and treat children and adults.

One of the largest problems in the region is a lack of HIV testing. According to Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa, a majority of children living with HIV are not receiving the proper care because they have never been tested and do not know they have the disease.

One way to resolve this is to ensure testing is being done at primary health facilities in communities, with a family-centered approach. It is equally important to increase testing and treatment for pregnant women. Only 47 percent of pregnant women with HIV in West and Central Africa were able to use antiretroviral medicines, which prevent transmission to the unborn child.

Gender Matters

Among adolescents, there are often gender disparities in HIV infections. In many parts of the world—including South Asia, East Asia, the Pacific, Latin America, the Caribbean, the Middle East and North Africa—more boys than girls between the ages of 15 and 19 were newly infected in 2017. Whereas in West, Central, Eastern and Southern Africa significantly more girls than boys were infected. In West and Central Africa, 66 percent of the new were girls, while only 34 percent were boys.

Women and girls in this region are particularly at risk of HIV because of cultural, social and economic inequalities. They are less likely to attend school. Girls that are uneducated are twice as likely to become infected with HIV than girls who have attended school. Additionally, uneducated girls are at a greater risk for partner violence, increasing the risk for HIV.

Access to healthcare is also a significant issue. Women’s inability to see a healthcare provider prevents life-saving testing and treatments. Approximately 50 percent of girls and young women in Sub-Saharan Africa are not allowed to make personal health decisions.

International Efforts

Ending HIV has long been a focus of international humanitarian organizations. Recently, with the increased focus on preventing HIV infections among adolescents, UNAIDS created ALL IN! This collaboration improves knowledge about HIV, as well as how it can be prevented and treated. The goal is to reduce new HIV infections by 75 percent by 2020, aiming for ending the epidemic by 2030.

UNAIDS reports that HIV has already decreased in some of the most severely affected countries due to the adoption of safer sexual practices by adolescents. Often, school is crucial to providing the necessary sex education.

Efforts to reduce HIV in West and Central Africa is not only being done by international organizations such as UNAIDS; governments and their partners are taking initiatives to better prevent and treat HIV in youth and adults.

In Côte d’Ivoire, the government made the decision to stop charging people for HIV testing and treatment services. Fees have long been a barrier for those who live in poverty. Currently, only 46 percent of those in Côte d’Ivoire living with HIV were accessing treatment. Hopefully, this initiative will begin to increase this number, helping nearly half a million people.

Treatments and Strategies

Those who are at a high risk of HIV in West and Central Africa but have not yet contracted the disease can take the pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) regimen. A pilot study is taking place in Burkina Faso, focusing on providing this preventative treatment to the most vulnerable. This includes homosexual men, who often avoid medical treatment due to the stigma surrounding their sexuality.

Once the study, which began at the end of 2018, is completed the plan is to expand PrEP across the nation and, eventually, the entire region. Benjamin Sana, a participant in this pilot study, is thankful for the treatment and believes that PrEP has the potential to save lives.

In response to a new survey, Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria’s president led the development of a Revised National HIV and AIDS Strategic Framework for 2019 to 2021. Since 2010, Nigeria has tripled the number of people who receive HIV treatment and adopted an effected test and treat policy in 2016.

The new strategy aims to ensure services are being delivered to the people who need them the most, even in remote areas with less health care access. One of their primary goals is to ensure that no more children are born with HIV in Nigeria, according to the president.

These efforts in Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso and Nigeria, as well as other countries in the region, will hopefully have a significant impact on the future of HIV in West and Central Africa, saving thousands of lives.

– Sara Olk
Photo: Flickr