For every minute and 40 seconds, a child or young person under the age of 20 was newly infected with HIV last year, according to a new UNICEF report released on Wednesday, .

This brings the total number of children living with HIV to 2.8 million.

The report, 'Reimagining a resilient HIV response for children, adolescents, and pregnant women living with HIV', cautioned that children are being left behind in the fight against HIV.

Prevention efforts and treatment for children remain some of the lowest amongst key affected populations.

It noted that in 2019, a little more than half of the children worldwide had access to life-saving treatment, significantly lagging behind coverage for both mothers (85 per cent) and all adults living with HIV (62 per cent). Nearly 110,000 children died of AIDS in 2019.

Despite some progress in the decades-long fight against HIV and AIDS, deep regional disparities persist among all populations, especially for children, the report said.

Pediatric coverage of antiretroviral treatment is highest in the Middle East and North Africa, at 81 per cent, followed by South Asia (76 per cent), Eastern and Southern Africa (58 per cent), East Asia and the Pacific (50 per cent), Latin America and the Caribbean (46 per cent) and West and Central Africa (32 per cent).

“Even as the world struggles in the midst of an ongoing global pandemic, hundreds of thousands of children continue to suffer the ravages of the HIV epidemic,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore.

Fore added: “There is still no HIV vaccine. Children are still getting infected at alarming rates, and they are still dying from AIDS. This was even before COVID-19 interrupted vital HIV treatment and prevention services putting countless more lives at risk.”

UNICEF mentioned that the COVID-19 crisis has further exacerbated inequities in access to life-saving HIV services for children, adolescents and pregnant mothers everywhere.

In a recent UNICEF survey of 29 HIV priority countries, one third responded that service coverage for children, adolescents and women living with and vulnerable to HIV is lower by 10 per cent or more compared with pre-pandemic numbers.

The report stated that in April and May, coinciding with partial and full lockdowns, pediatric HIV treatment and viral load testing in children in some countries declined between 50 and 70 per cent, and new treatment initiation fell by 25 to 50 per cent.

Similarly, health facility deliveries and maternal treatment were also reported to have reduced by 20 to 60 per cent. Also, maternal HIV testing and ART initiation declined by 25 to 50 per cent, and infant testing services declined by approximately 10 per cent.

The report further called on all governments to protect, sustain, and accelerate progress in fighting childhood HIV by maintaining essential health services and strengthening health systems.