Why adolescents still bear the brunt of new HIV infections

What you need to know:

  • Despite the success made in the reduction of HIV prevalence from 18 percent in the 1990s to the current 5.5 percent, the prevalence among women remains at 7.2 percent, 4.2 among men and the prevalence among adolescents is four times higher.

Today, Uganda joins the rest of the world to commemorate World Aids Day. 
Although there has been a reduction in HIV prevalence among the general population, the country continues to register new infections among adolescents and young women.

Dr Mary Otieno, the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) country representative, attributes the increase in new infections to poverty, which she says has increased adolescents’ and women’s vulnerability to HIV “especially when it is aggregated by inequalities between men and women as poor women who are financially dependent on men have no choice but to accept practices that put them at risk of contracting HIV.”
 “… close to two-thirds of new infections in 2021 were among women compared to men. Among the young adolescents aged 15 to 24, almost four in every five new infections occurred among young women,” she says.


According to the Uganda Aids Commission (UAC), about 1.4 million people are living with HIV/Aids and an estimated 54,000 people contract HIV every year.
Statistics from UAC also indicate that 17,000 people die of HIV/Aids annually. 
Dr Otieno, however, says the national and global response had seen new infections in the general population decline by 39 percent over the past decade, 1.3 million people living with HIV in Uganda sustained on ARVs and Aids-related deaths decreased by 69 percent between 2010 and 2021.
The director of Curative Services, Dr Charles Olaro, says closing the gaps in service delivery would enable Uganda achieve epidemic control.

“They must access prevention services when they need them as those who are found HIV-positive are linked to care,” he says.  
Pastor Joseph Sserwadda, a member of the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda, says behavioural change could enable the country reduce new infections and care for those living with HIV/Aids.
Dr Otieno says donors won’t be in a position to contribute the biggest percentage of the budget for Uganda’s Aids response because of other pressing global challenges.
Dr Otieno says donors inject $550m (Shs2 trillion) into Uganda’s Aids response annually.

Ms Victo Nalule, a persons with disabilities (PWD) activist, urges the government to avail health workers who can communicate with PWDs so that they can be empowered with information to make informed decisions.
Ms Barbra Kemigisa, an HIV activist, says guarding children and youth against sexual and gender-based violence would minimise infections.
Dr Munir Safieldin, the Unicef country representative, says the main challenges in service delivery for people living with HIV/Aids are low identification and sub-optimal retention in care and treatment services.

“Children and adolescents living with HIV bear the brunt of this challenge. Whereas more than 90 percent of adult population (20 years and above) has been identified and put on life-saving treatment, only 56 percent of children and 60 percent of adolescents living with HIV have been identified and put on life-saving treatment,” Dr Safieldin says.
Dr Vincent Bagambe, the director for planning and strategic information at UAC, says the infection rate among children born to mothers living with HIV has increased from 1.7 percent last year to 2.7 percent this year, due to poor adherence to treatment.