Journal of the International AIDS Society 20(1) 1-10 doi 10.7448/IAS.20.1.21456
AIDS is a leading cause of death among adolescents in sub-Saharan Africa. Yet, legal, policy and social barriers continue to restrict their access to HIV services. In recent years, access to independent HIV testing and treatment for adolescents has gained increased attention. The 2013 WHO Guidance on HIV testing and counselling and care for adolescents living with HIV (WHO Guidance) calls for reviewing legal and regulatory frameworks to facilitate adolescents’ access to comprehensive HIV services. As of 31 March 2017, some 28 countries in sub-Saharan Africa have adopted HIV-specific legislation. But there is limited understanding of the provisions of these laws on access to HIV services for adolescents and their implication on efforts to scale up HIV prevention, testing, treatment and care among this population.
A desk review of 28 HIV-specific laws in sub-Saharan Africa complemented with the review of HIV testing policies in four countries using human rights norms and key public health recommendations from the 2013 WHO Guidance. These recommendations call on countries to (i) lower the age of consent to HIV testing and counselling and allow mature adolescents who have not reached the age of consent to independently access HIV testing, (ii) ensure access to HIV counselling for adolescents, (iii) protect the confidentiality of adolescents living with HIV and (iv) facilitate access to HIV treatment for adolescents living with HIV.
Most HIV-specific laws fail to take into account human rights principles and public health recommendations for facilitating adolescents’ access to HIV services. None of the countries with HIV-specific laws has adopted all four recommendations for access to HIV services for adolescents. Discrepancies exist between HIV laws and national policy documents. Inadequate and conflicting provisions in HIV laws are likely to hinder access to HIV testing, counselling and treatment for adolescents.
Efforts to end legal barriers to access to HIV services for adolescents in sub-Saharan Africa should address HIV-specific laws. Restrictive provisions in these laws should be reformed, and their protective norms effectively implemented including by translating them into national policies and ensuring sensitization and training of healthcare workers and communities. This study reiterates the need for action in all countries across Africa and beyond to review their laws and policies to create an enabling environment to accelerate access to HIV prevention, testing and treatment services for adolescents.