World AIDS Day: India among 10 countries facing epidemic of HIV among adolescents

New Delhi: On Tuesday, actor Charlie Sheen publicly disclosed that he is HIV positive. According to UNAIDS, in 2014, 36.9 million people were living with HIV and two million people became infected with HIV.

World AIDS Day: India among 10 countries facing epidemic of HIV among adolescents

Most people assume being HIV positive is the same as having AIDS. However, that is not the case. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), HIV is a virus that infects a person and AIDS is the disease that later develops in people with HIV.

HIV, which stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus, infects cells of the immune system, which is the body’s defence against infections and diseases. When the infection of the virus “results in progressive deterioration of the immune system”, it leads to “immune deficiency”, states the WHO. The immune system is considered deficient when it can no longer fight the infection and disease. Infections that take advantage of a weakened system are known as “opportunistic infections”. WHO urges people living with HIV to start antiretroviral treatment as soon as they are diagnosed.

When HIV develops into Acquired Immuno-Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), which is the final stage of the HIV infection, it can lead to health issues like pneumonia, fungal infections and tuberculosis. According to WHO, AIDS is defined by “the occurrence of any of more than 20 opportunistic infections or HIV-related cancers”. The most common life-threatening opportunistic infection that people with HIV/AIDS suffer is Tuberculosis, which kills nearly 36,0 000 people living with HIV every year.

In the past, people who were infected with HIV also developed AIDS. However, with advanced medications, people with HIV can now be protected from getting AIDS.

India, China and Pakistan are among the 10 countries in the Asia-Pacific that account for 98% of youngsters aged 10 to 19 living with HIV, according to a UN report which said the region is facing a “hidden epidemic” of HIV among adolescents.

The report ‘Adolescents: Under the Radar in the Asia-Pacific AIDS Response’, published by the Asia-Pacific Inter-Agency Task Team on Young Key Populations, which includes UNICEF and the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS warned that the AIDS epidemic cannot be ended as a public health threat by 2030 without tackling the issue of adolescents. In 2014, 220,000 adolescents aged 10-19 were estimated to be living with HIV in Asia and the Pacific.

India is among the 10 countries in the region accounting for 98%of those aged 10 to 19 living with HIV. The other countries are Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. Prevalence is particularly high in large cities like Mumbai, Hanoi, Jakarta, Bangkok, Chiang Mai and other urban areas.

The 2014 figure accounts for almost 15 %of all new cases in the region. Although new infections are falling overall, they are rising among adolescents, coinciding with an increase in risky behaviour, such as multiple sexual partners and inconsistent condom use. The report added that in hotspot urban areas, HIV prevalence can be many times the national prevalence.

In general, female sex workers in Asia and the Pacific are 29 times more likely to be living with HIV compared with all women of reproductive age, according to a global systematic review in low and middle-income countries. “The Asia-Pacific region is facing a hidden epidemic of HIV among adolescents, with an estimated 50,000 new infections in 2014 among those aged 15 to 19,” the report said calling on governments to develop specifically targeted prevention strategies.

Those at highest risk include gay men and other men who have sex with men, transgender people, injecting drug users, and people who buy and sell sex. In India, HIV prevalence among men who have sex with men is 3.5% for those younger than 25 years while it is 4.9% for men older than 25. HIV prevalence among sex workers under 25 years of age in India was 1.7 %for the 2007-2014 period.