AIDS is now the leading cause of death for African teenagers and the second most common killer for adolescents across the globe, the U.N. children’s agency said Friday.
UNICEF reported at a conference in Johannesburg, South Africa that despite gains made among adults and babies with HIV, the number of 10-to-19-year-olds dying from AIDS-related diseases has tripled since 2000.
"We've collectively dropped the ball in the second decade of childhood," said Craig McClure, the chief of UNICEF's HIV and AIDS division.
But he added, that children born with the virus were dying in their teens because there was not enough treatment aimed at adolescents.
"Among HIV-affected populations, adolescents are the only group for which the mortality figures are not decreasing," a press release published with a report entitled the “Statistical Update on Children, Adolescents and AIDS” said.
"Most adolescents who die of AIDS-related illnesses acquired HIV when they were infants, 10 to 15 years ago, when fewer pregnant women and mothers living with HIV received antiretroviral medicines to prevent HIV transmission from mother to child," the press release said.
Data from the report indicates that there are 26 new infections every hour among teens aged 15 to 19 and roughly half of those living with HIV are in six countries: South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, India, Mozambique and Tanzania.
The report also says that in sub-Saharan African countries, girls comprise 7 out of 10 new infections among people from ages 15 to 19.
Mani Djelassem, a 17-year-old activist from Chad who for the last four years has been speaking about living with HIV, said affected teenagers have not been properly taught about the virus or the medication to treat it.
"I was infected at birth. What was my fault in this? Is it something I should be ashamed of?" asked the soft-spoken teenager, sporting purple-highlighted hair.
She said no one was talking to teenagers about AIDS, so she was speaking out.