Young people are carrying the burden of the HIV pandemic, UNAIDS regional support team director Sheila Tlou said on Friday.
"Young people are particularly susceptible to HIV infections and they also carry the burden of caring for family members living with HIV/Aids," she said in Johannesburg.
"Aids is shattering young people's opportunities for healthy adult lives."
Tlou was speaking at the launch of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation's (Unesco) regional report on comprehensive sexual education and sexuality and reproductive health (SRH) services for young people in eastern and southern Africa.
Things can't carry on as they are
The 21-country report urged health and education ministers to respond to the continuing high levels of HIV infection, unintended pregnancy, and low HIV prevention knowledge impacting on the region's 158 million adolescents.
The report was compiled by Unesco, UNAIDS, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the UN Children's Fund (Unicef), the World Health Organisation (WHO), other bilateral partners.
Tlou said a high-level group, which she chaired, had been tasked with steering the process at a political level.
"With a population of young people that is expected to double to 281 million by 2050 we can see that the youth bulge will be at the forefront of the development of the region."
She said the regions could not continue with "business as usual".
"When we consider that most young people complete less than six and a half years of education, we can see that our young people are not getting the opportunity to develop the cognitive and other skills required to successfully transition into adulthood.
"We still face challenges around teenage pregnancy, gender-based violence, and high fertility rates among our young people," said Tlou.
More needed to be done to protect and equip young girls in particular to attain better health, education, and social outcomes.
According to a fact sheet, adolescents and young people aged between 10 and 24 made up an estimated 33% of the population in eastern and southern Africa.
A total of 430 000 young people were infected with HIV per year, which was about 50 an hour.
In the region 2.6 million of those aged between 15 and 24 were living with HIV, yet HIV knowledge levels among young people remained below 40 percent.
Tlou said champions were needed to advocate a secured high-level political commitment for expanded and improved HIV prevention SRH services for the youth in the region.
"I urge government and regional economic bodies to review their relationships and programs towards the regional and national responses for sexuality education and sexual and reproductive services for young people," she said.