One girl between the ages of 15 and 19 is infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, every three minutes of every day, a United Nations report found.
The report, released Wednesday at the International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam, said teenage girls are bearing the brunt of the AIDS epidemic, largely due to gender inequality.
Henrietta Fore, head of the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF), called it a “crisis of health.”
“In most countries, women and girls lack access to information, to services, or even just power to say no to unsafe sex,” she said. “HIV thrives among the most vulnerable and marginalized, leaving teenage girls at the center of the crisis.”
The report said while there was significant progress in the battle against AIDS in other age groups, it is notably lacking among adolescents.
While AIDS-related deaths among all other age groups have been falling since 2010, those among children aged 15 to 19 have seen no reduction.
In 2017, 1.2 million 15- to 19-year-olds were living with HIV, three in five of them were girls, according to UNICEF.
Actress and activist Charlize Theron addressed the issue in her speech at the conference.
The AIDS epidemic is “not just about sex or sexuality,” she said. It is also about “the second-class status of women and girls worldwide.”
The solution, according to Angelique Kidjo, a UNICEF goodwill ambassador who contributed to the report, is education and economic empowerment.
“We need to make girls and women secure enough economically that they don’t have to turn to sex work,” she said. “We need to make sure they have the right information about how HIV is transmitted and how to protect themselves.”