HIV and AIDS is by far the biggest challenge the world has ever faced. The global community is shaken by its existence as every corner of the world has felt its impact. Many leaders have awakened to the challenge of fighting head-on the virus but still many have ineffectively responded to halt the spread of the virus. Currently, over 40 million people are living with HIV.
Sub-Saharan Africa remains the region most heavily affected by HIV. In 2008, sub-Saharan Africa accounted for 67% of HIV infections worldwide, 68% of new HIV infections among adults and 91% of new HIV infections among children. In 2008, an estimated 1.9 million people living in sub-Saharan Africa became newly infected with HIV, bringing the total number of people living with HIV to 22.4 million. While the rate of new HIV infections in sub-Saharan Africa has slowly declined with the number of new infections in 2008 being approximately 25% lower than at the epidemic’s peak in the region in 1995 the number of people living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa slightly increased in 2008, in part due to increased longevity stemming from improved access to HIV treatment. Adult (15 – 49) HIV prevalence declined from 5.8% in 2001 to 5.2% in 2008.
Young people aged 15–24 accounted for about 40 per cent of new HIV infections in 2008. With the millions of new HIV infections predicted among young people in future years, AIDS will not be halted until young people have the knowledge and capacity to avoid behaviours that put them at risk. Adolescents and young people need accurate and relevant information about HIV transmission and an enabling and protective environment in their communities where they can talk openly about risky behaviours. They also need preventive interventions, which include voluntary counselling and testing, HIV education in schools, and prevention of sexually-transmitted infections. The greatest challenge is reaching the many young people who are not aware of their vulnerability to HIV or who do not understand the best ways to prevent becoming infected. Many young people in the age group 15–24 engage in unsafe behaviour and a significant number continue to be infected. To be effective, HIV prevention programmes must combine information, life skills and behavioural change activities with actions to address the social issues that make adolescents and young people vulnerable to HIV and lead them to engage in risky sexual behaviours.