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Youth and HIV/AIDS Fact Sheet

Of the over 1 billion youth (ages 15-24) worldwide, some 10 million are living with HIV: 1 Every day, an estimated 6,000 youth are infected with the virus.

Research from around the world shows an alarming degree of misinformation and lack of knowledge about HIV/AIDS among young people, especially young women. The majority lack access to effective prevention programmes, while many cannot access condoms.

Of the 15-24 year old young people living with HIV, 63 per cent live in sub-Saharan Africa and 21 per cent live in Asia-Pacific. 2

In Eastern Europe and Central Asia, more than 80 per cent of those living with HIV are under the age of 30. 3

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Young women face the highest risks

The higher biological vulnerability of females to infection accounts, in part, for the growing number of young women infected with HIV. Socio-cultural norms that reinforce gender inequalities, such as patterns of sexual networking and age-mixing, are also important factors that leave girls and young women more vulnerable to HIV than their male peers.

One-third of all women living with HIV are between the ages of 15 and 24.

Worldwide, young women (15-24 years) are 1.6 times as likely as young men to be HIV positive.

Many young women are reported to have experienced coerced and unprotected sex from an early age. Forced sex and consequent abrasions facilitate entry of the virus. 4

Abstinence before marriage may not be a successful prevention strategy for girls who marry early if their older husbands already carry the virus. Marriage can actually increase the risk of HIV for young girls: In various African countries, married girls between the ages of 15 and 19 have higher HIV infection levels than non-married sexually active females of the same age. 5

Studies in sub-Saharan Africa on age differences between girls (15 to 19) and their sexual partners show a gap of six or more years, which limits their power to resist unsafe sexual practices. 6

In high-prevalence countries of sub-Saharan Africa, the main mode of HIV transmission is heterosexual intercourse. This region contains almost two thirds of all young people living with HIV – approximately 6.2 million young people, 76 per cent of whom are female. 7

Where heterosexual intercourse is the primary mode of HIV transmission, young women face significantly higher risks than men:

  • In sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean, young women are 3 times and 2.4 times, respectively more likely than men to be HIV positive. 8
  • In Trinidad and Tobago, the number of women between 15 and 19 years old with HIV is 5 times higher than among adolescent males. 9

In Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and parts of Latin America, where injecting drug use along and high risk sex are the main transmission routes, different risk patterns emerge.

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Orphaned by AIDS

AIDS has orphaned millions of children, and the number is expected to increase as more HIV-infected parents become ill and die over the next 10 years. 10

In Africa, Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean, some 15 million children (under 15) lost one or both parents to AIDS by the end of 2003. By 2010, that number is expected to double. In sub-Saharan Africa alone, the number of children who lost one or both parents to AIDS increased from under 1 million to over 12 million between 1990 and 2003. In 2003 alone, 4 million children in sub-Saharan Africa lost both their parents to AIDS. 11

In sub-Saharan Africa, adolescents who have lost both parents are 22 per cent less likely to attend school than children whose parents are both alive and who are living with at least one of those parents. 12

Prevention services are limited

Fewer than one in five people at risk of infection have access to basic prevention services, which include:

  • Education about the risks of HIV
  • Voluntary counselling and testing
  • Access to condoms
  • Treatment for sexually transmitted infections
  • Strategies to prevent mother-to child transmission of HIV
  • Harm reduction programmes for injecting drug users 13

In many regions of the world, youth lack access to prevention education programmes:

  • In Eastern Europe and Central Asia, only 3 per cent of out-of-school youth and 40 per cent of in-school youth have access to prevention education.
  • In Latin America and the Caribbean, only 4 per cent of those out-of-school and 38 per cent of those in-school, have such access. 14
  • In sub-Saharan Africa, only 8 per cent of out-of-school youth (and only slightly more in-school youth) have access to prevention education.
  • Furthermore, one global study showed that 44 out of 107 countries failed to include AIDS in their school curricula. 15

Large numbers of young people do not know how to protect themselves from HIV:

  • Surveys in sub- Saharan Africa found that only 21 per cent of young women and 30 per cent of young men (15 to 24) had the knowledge needed to protect themselves.
  • In South-Eastern Asia, only 13 per cent of young women had this basic level of knowledge.
  • In the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), only 7 per cent of young men and women were equipped with comprehensive and correct knowledge about HIV and AIDS.

Consistent and correct condom use is the only effective method for preventing HIV infection in sexually active people. The percentage of young women who know this is an indication of the degree to which national information and education programmes about HIV have succeeded, or failed:

Patterns of condom use vary among regions:

Although young people are especially vulnerable to HIV, they have enormous potential for changing the course of the epidemic: In Uganda, for example, a dynamic youth movement against AIDS launched a campaign to delay sexual initiation, reduce the number of partners and increase condom use. Between 1990 and 2000, HIV prevalence among pregnant teenagers (15–19 years) in Kampala fell from 22 per cent to 7 per cent. 16

Learn more:

1UNAIDS. 2004. At the Crossroads: Accelerating Youth Access to HIV/AIDS Interventions.
2 UNAIDS. 2004. Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic 2004: 4 th Global Report (UNAIDS/04.16E). Geneva, Switzerland: UNAIDS.
3 UNICEF CEE/CIS and Baltics Regional Office. 22 February 2004. “HIV/AIDS in Europe and Central Asia”. Press release.

4 UNAIDS. 2004. Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic 2004: 4 th Global Report (UNAIDS/04.16E). Geneva, Switzerland: UNAIDS.
5 Glynn et al. 2001. Why do young women have a much higher prevalence of HIV than young men? A study in Kisumu, Kenya and Ndola, Zambia. AIDS , 15 (Suppl. 4):S51–60. Cited in UNAIDS. 2004. Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic 2004: 4 th Global Report (UNAIDS/04.16E). Geneva, Switzerland: UNAIDS.
6 Luke N, Kurz, K. 2002. Cross-generational and transactional sexual relations in sub-Saharan Africa . Washington, AIDSmark. Available at www.icrw.org/docs/crossgensex_Report_902pdf . Cited in Cited in UNAIDS. 2004. Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic 2004: 4 th Global Report (UNAIDS/04.16E). Geneva, Switzerland: UNAIDS.
7 UNAIDS. 2004. Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic 2004: 4 th Global Report (UNAIDS/04.16E). Geneva, Switzerland: UNAIDS.
8UNAIDS. 2004. Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic 2004: 4 th Global Report (UNAIDS/04.16E). Geneva, Switzerland: UNAIDS.
9 UNICEF. 2003. The Epidemiology of HIV at the start of the 21 st Century: Reviewing the evidence. Geneva: UNICEF. Cited in UNAIDS. 2004. Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic 2004: 4 th Global Report (UNAIDS/04.16E). Geneva, Switzerland: UNAIDS.
10 UNICEF,UNAIDS,USAID. July 2004. Children on the Brink 2004: A joint report of new orphan estimates and a framework for action. New York: USAID.

11 Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Statistics Division. Progress towards the Millennium Development Goals, 1990-2005. Available at: http://unstats.un.org/unsd/mi/goals_2005/goal_6.pdf .
12 Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Statistics Division. Progress towards the Millennium Development Goals, 1990-2005. Available at: http://unstats.un.org/unsd/mi/goals_2005/goal_6.pdf .
13 Closing the Gap: Access to HIV Prevention. Global HIV Prevention Working Group. May 2003. Available at www.gatesfoundation.org . Cited in UNAIDS. 2004. At the Crossroads: Accelerating Youth Access to HIV/AIDS Interventions.
14 Closing the Gap: Access to HIV Prevention. Global HIV Prevention Working Group. May 2003. Available at www.gatesfoundation.org . Cited in UNAIDS. 2004. At the Crossroads: Accelerating Youth Access to HIV/AIDS Interventions.
15 Lopez V. 2002. HIV/AIDS and young people. A review of the state of the epidemic and its impact on world youth (unpublished report). Geneva, UNAIDS. Cited in UNAIDS. 2004. Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic 2004: 4 th Global Report (UNAIDS/04.16E). Geneva, Switzerland: UNAIDS.
16 Cohen, A. 2003. Beyond Slogans: Lessons of Uganda's experience of ABC and HIV/AIDS. New York: Alan Guttmacher Institute. Also see UNICEF, UNAIDS, WHO. 2002. Young People and HIV/AIDS: Opportunity in Crisis. New York: UNICEF.

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