There are about 1.8 billion young people aged between 10 to 24 years in the world. This is by far the largest generation of youth in history! Approximately half of them – 900 million – are adolescent girls and young women.
Majority of the adolescent girls and young women live in low and middle-income countries. With regards to HIV, this young cohort is disproportionately affected by the virus. In 2016, 2.3 million adolescents and young women were living with HIV. Eastern and southern Africa regions carry the heaviest burden with an estimated 230 000 new HIV infections annually. Overall, the number of African adolescents and young people is estimated to increase to more than 750 million by 2060. Bearing these projections in mind, new HIV infections among young people are expected to rise even if our global progress to HIV response is maintained.
To end AIDS as a public health threat by 2030, UNAIDS estimates US$26.2 billion is needed for the global HIV response in 2020 alone. This means the world must increase the amount of resources available for HIV by US$1.5 billion each year between 2016 and 2020. There is a lot more emphasis on countries most affected by the HIV epidemic to finance their own responses and find more efficient and cost-effective ways to do so.
The world will convene in France in October 2019 for the 6th replenishment of the Global Fund to raise new funds towards ending AIDS, TB and Malaria by 2030 in alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals. In addition to the pledges which will be made, there is an increasing need for implementing countries (of the Global Fund grants) to step up their domestic resources for health especially investments in young women. There is limited research within the HIV evidence base specifically among adolescents and young women. Where data on youth exist, the way it is presented sometimes fails to tell the full story.
Photo credit: PEPFAR
Girls and women are powerful agents of change as well as drivers of sustainable development. Evidence from around the world confirms that investing in girls and women, by education and health, creates a ripple effect that yields multiple benefits such as greater accumulation of human capital; increased productivity, income and economic development. For example, a study in Botswana found that each additional year of secondary schooling by adolescent girls reduced cumulative HIV infection risk by 8.1%. Yet, despite all we know, decision makers have failed to consistently make adolescent girls and young women a priority. They are deprived of access to health services, confront barriers to education, are vulnerable to gender-based violence and face discrimination in political and economic spheres.
Now, at the dawn of the SDGs, we have an opportunity to correct this wrong and prioritize the health, rights, and wellbeing of girls and women everywhere.