Launched at AIDS2022, the EPIC initiative joins forces to highlight the urgent need to re-commit focus, resources, and action to end AIDS in children by 2030. EPIC is just the latest way Aidsfonds and GNP+ kept children on the agenda at the world’s largest gathering of HIV activists, scientists, and donors.
Evidence from UNAIDS’ recent Global AIDS Update report, entitled “In Danger,” is concerning. The document reveals that children are being left behind in the HIV response: Testing, treatment, and viral suppression data for children are off target and remain poor in comparison to adults across the HIV response.
Nearly four out of 10 children living with HIV were undiagnosed in 2021. Just 15% of adults living with HIV do not know their status, according to the UNAIDS report. Only about half of children living with HIV had access to life-saving antiretroviral treatment in 2021. In contrast, adult treatment coverage was reported at 76 per cent. Similarly, almost 60% of children on HIV treatment are not virally suppressed. Less than a third of adults on antiretrovirals report the same. Not only are these gaps widening yearly, but they also continue to make children vulnerable to new infections and death.
In 2021, children accounted for just 4% of people living with HIV but made up 15% of all AIDS-related deaths. These deaths are preventable, and this trend cannot continue.
Caregivers, parents of children affected by HIV at EPIC’s heart
As shocking as the report was, many activists, community representatives and civil society organisations working on children’s issues were not surprised. We have been raising these concerns since the 2019 ICASA conference in Rwanda. At that meeting, we joined others to release the Kigali Declaration, which calls on governments and donors to end the needless deaths of children by ensuring timely access to diagnosis, particularly point-of-care infant testing, and child-friendly treatment.
Still, new evidence from a report by the Coalition of Children Affected by AIDS (CCABA) shows a substantial annual gap in HIV funding for children and adolescents.
The new EPIC initiative brings together communities, civil society and partners passionate about children’s HIV treatment and care. Together, we hope to use sustained and urgent action to realise the global paediatric HIV commitments in the Global AIDS Strategy and the 2021 Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS, adopted at the latest UN High-Level Meeting on AIDS.
The EPIC initiative aims to build stronger partnerships, harness coordinated advocacy messages collaboratively and ensure heightened visibility for children affected by HIV in global, regional, and country-level platforms of influence. The initiative will Identify, recruit, and capacity build, a team of advocates who are parents and caregivers of children affected by HIV and identify opportunities for their representation in national and global spaces.
EPIC: The road ahead
The EPIC programme will continue to offer a platform for community and civil society organising and advocacy for children affected by HIV. Together, Aidsfonds, GNP+, and EPIC partners will support intensified advocacy by communities, civil society, donors, and policymakers to translate global policy and biomedical advances to country-level adaptations and actions that directly impact the health and lives of children, adolescents, and women.
We will also build the knowledge and skills of parents and caregivers of children living with or affected by HIV to speak up on issues affecting children so that advocacy remains guided by lived experience.
And as children and adolescents living with HIV grow into young adults, we will continue to support and amplify their voices. To this end, the Love Alliance, which includes Aidsfonds and GNP+, also recently launched the Young Emerging Leaders (YEL) programme, to build an elite squad of young advocates to engage and influence global policy and health governance spaces.
In the world’s quest to end AIDS by 2030, we will not stop demanding policies and investments that specifically prioritise children. We have the research and the tools needed to end AIDS in children. Now, it’s time that policy, political will, and financial investment to end paediatric AIDS follow suit.