LGBTI teens in the Asia-Pacific region are facing a ‘hidden epidemic’ of HIV, according to a UN report released on Monday (30 November).
Although new HIV infections are falling overall, there were an estimated 50,000 new transmissions among adolescents aged 15-19 in 2014, accounting for 15% of new infections.
There are now about 220,000 adolescents living with HIV in the region – mainly in large cities such as Bangkok, Hanoi and Jakarta – and less than a third are receiving life-saving anti-retroviral therapy.
‘Adolescence is a time of transition and risk-taking, as children navigate the difficult journey to adulthood,’ said UNICEF Regional Director for UNICEF East Asia and Pacific Daniel Toole.
‘UNICEF is working with governments throughout the Asia-Pacific region to ensure they meet their obligations to protect adolescents’ health, including by providing access to adolescent-sensitive HIV testing and treatment services.’
The rise in new infections coincides with an increase in risky behavior, such as multiple sexual partners and inconsistent condom use, and an ‘explosion’ of hookup apps.
‘The explosion of smart phone gay dating apps has expanded the options for casual spontaneous sex as never before – mobile app users in the same vicinity (if not the same street) can locate each other and arrange an immediate sexual encounter with a few screen touches,’ the report states.
The report recommends that governments develop better data on adolescents, strategies for HIV prevention, and adolescent-specific laws and policies, including These comprehensive sex education in schools and through social media, information on where to get an HIV test, condom use, and HIV testing and treatment services designed for adolescents.
However, only 10 countries in the region are known to allow independent consent for young people to access HIV testing.
In addition to the legal barriers, stigma and discrimination often discourage adolescents living with HIV from seeking treatment.
‘We want all adolescents regardless of where they live or who they are to enjoy every opportunity to grow into healthy and productive adults,’ said Steve Kraus, Director of UNAIDS Regional Support Team for Asia and the Pacific.
‘But this is only possible if their rights to HIV combination prevention and sexual and reproductive health services are respected. We must ensure that no barrier stands in their way.’
Other findings in the report include:
- The HIV burden among adolescents falls heaviest on ten countries in the region, which together account for 98 per cent of adolescents aged 10 to 19 living with HIV in Asia-Pacific. These are: Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam.
- Among countries where data are available, Papua New Guinea and the Philippines have the highest proportion of adolescents living with HIV, accounting for almost 10 per cent of total people living with HIV in each country.
- In the Philippines, new HIV infections among 15-19 year olds have risen by 50 per cent over four years, from an estimated 800 in 2010 to 1,210 in 2014.
- In South Asia, AIDS-related deaths among 10-19 year olds have almost quadrupled from around 1,500 in 2001 to 5,300 in 2014. In East Asia and the Pacific, deaths have increased from 1,000 to 1,300 over the same period.