HIV prevalence among adolescent girls a challenge in SA, says research

The South African Health Review says HIV prevalence among adolescents, especially girls, is a challenge.
The South African Health Review says HIV prevalence among adolescents, especially girls, is a challenge.
Image: 123RF/Gamjai

The prevalence of HIV among adolescents, especially girls, remains a challenge in SA, according to research.

The South African Health Review 2019 reveals that HIV prevalence in adolescent girls is sitting at 5.8%, compared with 4.8% in adolescent boys.

“With regard to viral load suspension, less than 50% of HIV adolescents and young people aged 15-24 are virally suppressed, presenting a serious challenge to improving health and wellbeing of adolescents living with HIV,” the report reads.

The report notes that despite efforts to alleviate the burden of HIV among adolescent girls and young women, they continue to be “disproportionately” affected by the virus.

According to the report, in spite of an enabling policy environment in SA, there have been “numerous foundational challenges across the health system ‘building blocks’.”

These are challenges, the report notes, with governance, medicines and technologies, human resources, service delivery, lack of adolescent-specific indicators in the data information system and system financing.

“These elements are key in achieving UHC [universal health coverage], and without strengthening them and ensuring that interventions to improve adolescent health are prioritised across the health system, achieving UHC for adolescents will remain a challenge in SA,” says the report.

The report also reveals that adolescents diagnosed with HIV have poorer adherence to antiretroviral treatment than older population groups, and are the only age group with increasing HIV mortality.

“To date there is no evidence that clinics implementing adolescent youth-friendly services provide more responsive, high-quality care than those that are not yet implementing it. Given their dissatisfaction, adolescents say they would not recommend the clinics they attended to their peers.”

The report also found there was little information available regarding mental health among adolescents in the country.

“Early trauma and violence in childhood have been shown to affect the mental health of adolescents,” the report says.

The report recommends that the South African health care system be strengthened to meet the needs of adolescent “clients”.

“In addition to overall health system strengthening, implementation of South Africa’s adolescent-specific polices and programmes  needs to be monitored using adolescent-specific indicators, or age-disaggregated indicators, and systems should be strengthened based on these data,” the report recommends.

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