HIV Infections To Rise In Young Women In Sub Saharan Africa- Experts Blame Blessers

PUBLIC health experts have warned of a rise in new infections in young girls in Sub Saharan Africa owing to various factors chief among them being poverty which exposes them to the insatiable desires of older men who have greater financial muslcle.

Quarraisha Abdool Karim, Caprisa’s associate scientific director said, “You’ve got this ongoing cycle” of transmission fed by a constant supply of girls reaching teenhood.

In a 2016 study, she and other researchers at Caprisa found that women ages 15 to 24 in Vulindlela , South Africa and a nearby community were infected by men an average of 8.7 years older. Researchers cite both consensual sex and rape as sources of infection.
The dramatic results showed that 60% of the women in the next age group, from 25 to 40, were infected, revealing the area to be one of the most HIV infected in the world.

Because Africa’s youth population is booming—improvements in general health care now allow millions more to survive childhood—the at-risk population is expanding. Approximately 60% of the continent’s population is under age 25.

That population bubble has affected the fight against HIV infection. Globally, new HIV infections declined 15.6% between 2010 and 2016. The number of new infections would have dropped more, by 18.5%, if sub-Saharan Africa’s 15- to 24-year-old population hadn’t expanded during those years, according to a UNAIDS analysis.

United States, Global Aids coordinator, Deborah Birx says, “You have to really push down new infections at a much higher rate” to make up for the increasing population.”

HIV is prevalent in the general population in eastern and southern Africa, unlike most other parts of the world, and reaching everyone at risk with preventive tools or drug treatment is more challenging and costly.

Dr. Birx launched an initiative in 2015 called Dreams that has spent $523 million in U.S. and private money on HIV testing and counseling, subsidies to help girls stay in school and other programs for teenage girls and young women in South Africa and 14 other countries. South Africa’s government introduced a similar program in 2016 called “She Conquers” to expand services to young women throughout the country.

The U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) which Dr. Birx oversees, said in December that new HIV diagnoses in women ages 15 to 24 have declined at least 25% since 2015 in 65% of the communities where its Dreams programs were initially implemented.

Dr. Quarraisha Abdool Karim saw the first signs of the transmission cycle in 1989 when she conducted a study in KwaZulu-Natal that found HIV to be 3.2 times more common in women than in men. She also found that women were infected at younger ages than men.
“It was very clear when you looked at the prevalence data that young boys were not infecting” the girls their own age, but rather older men were, she said.

“What that told us was if we were going to slow the HIV epidemic we needed to find some way to lower the incidence rate in young girls,” said Dr. Salim Abdool Karim.

AIDS deaths began to decline across Africa in the mid-2000s, after international donors and local governments began providing antiretroviral drugs, which allow infected people to live nearly normal lives by beating the virus back to a level at which it doesn’t damage the body.

HIV/AIDS attracts more donations from governments and organizations than any other infectious disease. UNAIDS said $19.1 billion was dedicated to HIV/AIDS in 2016 and that $26.2 billion will be needed by 2020. The funds include paying for drugs as well as for prevention tools.

Scientists are developing and testing new prevention methods that women can control and that they hope will be easy to use. Caprisa researchers are also studying possible biological factors, such as the makeup of the vaginal microbiome, that may affect a woman’s risk of HIV infection.

More public-health officials and researchers say breaking the cycle of infection for young women is critical to keeping the virus in check. Successful prevention methods, including circumcision and condom use, have been geared mainly to men. Now, researchers are working to develop new ways to protect women, including education programs, drug regimens and other prevention tools.

“They are the key to global epidemic control of HIV,” said Salim Abdool Karim, director of the Center for the AIDS Program of Research in South Africa, known as Caprisa, a consortium of South African and North American scientists that researches HIV in young women.
Young women ages 15 to 24 accounted for 20% of the 1.8 million people globally who were newly infected in 2016, more than any other age group of men or women, according to the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS.

In sub-Saharan Africa, where nearly two-thirds of all new HIV infections in 2016 occurred, more than twice as many young women were infected as young men. In the rest of the world, more young men were infected than young women.

In a unique cycle of transmission, researchers say young women in parts of eastern and southern Africa are often infected by older men, whom many date because the men help them financially. When those women reach their late 20s and 30s, they become involved with men closer to their own ages, passing the virus onto them, according to Caprisa and other researchers. As those men date younger women, they can transmit HIV to the next wave. It is less common in other parts of the world for different generations to infect each other, which helps limit transmission.

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