A new report from children's charity UNICEF has revealed that more than 850,000 infants have been saved from contracting HIV since 2005 in low- and middle-income countries, and that new adolescent infections could be halved by 2020 with more focus on interventions.
The 2013 Stocktaking Report on Children and AIDS analyzed the prevalence of HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) and AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) worldwide, what impact past inventions have had, and whether increased investment in these is likely to reduce prevalence of the infection going forward.
In detail, the report revealed that the number of infants who had been infected with HIV reduced from 540,000 in 2005 to 260,000 in 2012 - leading experts to calculate that over 850,000 infants had been saved from the burden of HIV.
"This report reminds us that an AIDS-free generation is one in which all children are born free of HIV and remain so - from birth and throughout their lives - and it means access to treatment for all children living with HIV," says Michel Sidibe, executive director of UNAIDS.
"It also reminds us that women's health and well-being should be at the center of the AIDS response. I have no doubt that we will achieve these goals."
There is more opportunity than ever to treat women with HIV effectively and prevent transmission to infants, according to the report - through a new long-life antiretroviral treatment known as option B+. This involves the HIV-infected mother having treatment, which is in the form of a pill, once a day.
"These days, even if a pregnant woman is living with HIV, it doesn't mean her baby must have the same fate, and it doesn't mean she can't lead a healthy life," says Anthony Lake, executive director at UNICEF.
The report also notes some significant successes in combatting the HIV burden in sub-saharan Africa. New infections among infants declined by 76% between 2009 and 2012 in Ghana, 58% in Namibia, 55% in Zimbabwe, 52% in Malawi and Botswana, and 50% in Zambia and Ethiopia.
AIDS-related deaths increased in adolescents
However, the report revealed that among adolescents aged between 10 and 19, AIDS-related deaths increased by 50% from 71,000 in 2005 to 110,000 in 2012.
The authors of the report state that this statistic suggests there needs to be additional funding and focus on "high-impact interventions" to reduce AIDS-related death among teenagers.
The report refers to high-impact interventions as condoms, antiretroviral treatment, prevention of mother-to-child transmission, voluntary medical circumcision, communications for behavior change, and approaches targeted for marginalized and at-risk populations.
Investments in education, social protection and welfare, and strengthening health systems are also deemed as high-impact mediations.
In the report, it is estimated that if $5.5 billion was invested in high-impact interventions by 2014, around 2 million teenagers could avoid infection by 2020.
Investments in these high-impact interventions in 2010 stood at $3.8 billion, according to the report.
"If high-impact interventions are scaled up using an integrated approach, we can halve the number of new infections among adolescents by 2020. It's a matter of reaching the most vulnerable adolescents with effective programs - urgently."
AIDS-free generation 'needs to become a reality'
The authors of the report emphasize that more children with HIV should receive antiretroviral treatment, after statistics showed that only 34% of children with HIV in low- and middle-income countries had the treatment in 2012, compared with 64% of adults.
From this, it is estimated that 210,000 children died from AIDS-related illness in 2012 as a result.
The report states that antiretroviral treatment in these countries needs to be more accessible, and that one way of doing this would be to introduce the use of mobile phones in Zambia and Malawi, which will allow HIV test results to be delivered faster.
"The world now has the experience and the tools to achieve an AIDS-free generation. Children should be the first to benefit from our successes in defeating HIV, and the last to suffer when we fall short," says Lake.
Medical News Today recently reported on a study suggesting that taking multivitamins alongside selenium may delay HIV progression in patients with early stages of the disease.