Malawi is one of the success stories in sub-Saharan Africa for the scaling up of HIV/AIDS treatment which has led to a significant reduction in deaths across the continent. Since the introduction of antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) in Malawi a decade ago, deaths from HIV/AIDS have fallen from more than 90,000 people annually to around 45,000 (according to UN data). New HIV infections have also dropped by 73% between 2001 and 2011.
However, AIDS experts remain concerned about certain sections of the population, in particular teenagers and young adults. More than two-fifths of all new HIV infections in Malawi are among 10–19 year olds. (In South Africa, national data has recently revealed that teenage girls are at the highest risk of contracting HIV/AIDS).
African teenagers at risk
New data from the World Health Organisation (WHO) shows that while AIDS-related deaths have fallen globally over the last seven years, deaths among adolescents have risen by 50%. The WTO blames this alarming rise on a lack of “prioritization” being placed on teenagers in national HIV strategies. This has led to poor services and support for youngsters, particularly with regards to ARV treatment plans. The news agency IRIN quoted the Director of the WHO’s HIV/AIDS department explaining that adolescents are “less likely than adults to be tested for HIV and often need more support...to help them maintain care and to stick to treatment”.
According to the WHO, only 10% of young men aged 15–24 in sub-Saharan Africa know their HIV status, and only 15% of young women. This low level of testing and awareness means that the disease is often diagnosed late in adolescents and they can already be extremely ill by the time they start treatment. The WHO is therefore recommending that governments make it easier for adolescents to take an HIV test without parental consent as one important measure to address this problem.