Young people affected by HIV

Young people are one of the groups who are most severely affected by HIV and AIDS. Almost a third of new HIV infections globally are estimated to occur among youth ages 15 to 25 years. Many adolescents have been living with their HIV positive status from birth. Overall, there are 5 million young people around the world today living with HIV.

More than 70 percent of all new HIV infections among young people are in sub-Saharan Africa, which also has the fastest growing youth population in the world. In 2016, around 200 000 adolescents between the ages of 15 and 19 years were newly infected with HIV across 23 African countries, 72 percent of whom were young women. In some countries in 2014 teenage girls were five times more likely to be HIV positive than teenage boys. 

Biologically, the immature reproductive and immune systems of adolescent girls mean they are more susceptible to STIs and HIV transmission. Girls and young women are also more vulnerable to infection due to gender inequality, which can mean they are unable to negotiate for safe sex, or may be subject to sexual violence or exploitation. Harmful traditional practices such as early and child marriage or widow inheritance also make young women more susceptible to HIV infection.

Although a large proportion of people affected by HIV and AIDS are adolescents, only a minority of young people have access to quality STI and HIV services. In most countries, comprehensive and accurate knowledge about HIV is low and HIV testing in this age group is rare. Several barriers commonly prevent young people from accessing sexual health services:

  • Lack of knowledge about sexual health, misinformation, and myths
  • In many societies sexual health concerns are taboo or stigmatised and unmarried sexually active girls and young women are often subject to judgemental attitudes and discrimination
  • Sexual health services are too expensive, or require young people to travel a large distance
  • Where a family planning or sexual health service is available, they are not ‘youth-friendly’ and the health needs of adolescents are a low priority
  • Services may also be hampered by corruption, lack supplies and equipment, and be poorly integrated, for example family planning counselling might fail to include STI care
  • Health workers may show judgemental attitudes, disrespect confidentiality, or not take patients' needs seriously.

As a result, many young women around the world who are HIV positive do not know their status and do not receive treatment. This is damaging for their own health but also puts their children at risk.

FIGO has been working with partners and our member associations to break down the barriers which prevent adolescents accessing quality sexual health services and treatment, and supporting obstetricians and gynecologists to effect change in their countries and promote adolescent sexual health and rights on a global scale.