Every minute of every day, a child under the age of 15 becomes infected with HIV.
Children under 15 account for one in six AIDS-related deaths worldwide and one in
seven new HIV infections – the vast majority through mother-to-child transmission,
which can occur in the womb, during birth or through breastfeeding. Ninety percent
of the more than 5 million children who have been infected were born in Africa.And the number of children becoming infected with HIV is rising in other parts of
the world. In the worst-affected countries, AIDS is now the biggest single cause
of death among the under 5s, and is threatening to reverse years of hard-won progress
in reducing child mortality.
Other causes of HIV infection in children are contaminated blood products or syringes
and, particularly in the case of young girls, sexual abuse.Prevention of childhood HIV, therefore, requires action on numerous levels, starting
with HIV prevention and family planning for women of childbearing age.For HIV-positive women or those at high risk of infection, counselling, testing
and access to antiretroviral treatment are essential, whether to avoid unintended
pregnancy or to take steps in reducing the risk of transmission during and after
pregnancy. Furthermore, child sexual abuse must be confronted directly wherever
it occurs, as it continues to put significant numbers of children at risk
Many more children are affected by HIV even though they may not be infected with
the virus themselves. After illness and death, the harshest impact on children is
the death of one or more parents, and the resulting loss of affection, support and
protection. Countless children become responsible for the care of their siblings
and other family members when parents are debilitated by poor health.Some 15 million children under age 18 have lost one or both parents to AIDS. The
vast majority—more than 12 million—are in sub-Saharan Africa, where the weight of
numbers puts an enormous strain on the traditional family safety net.
In addition to psychological trauma, evidence shows that orphans living with extended
families or in foster care are frequently subject to discrimination and are less
likely to receive health, education and other needed services. The situation is
yet more desperate for those living in child-headed households or on their own on
the streets. The vulnerability of these children represents part of a vicious cycle:
their circumstances put them at high risk for exploitation and abuse, and therefore
exposure themselves to HIV, and lack of access to health care, education and social
support perpetuates the conditions of poverty.
Despite advances in HIV treatment and access to antiretroviral drugs, the number
of AIDS orphans is projected to exceed 25 million by the end of the decade, and
the need for programmes that address this crisis—already in short supply—will only
increase.The global community recognizes the essential rights and needs of orphans and vulnerable
children. The Declaration of Commitment adopted at the 2001 United Nations General
Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS specified goals and targets for addressing
the impact of HIV on children.
Countries resolved that, together with partners, they would:
- implement national policies and strategies to build and strengthen governmental,
family and community capacities to provide a supportive environment for orphans
and girls and boys infected and affected by HIV
- ensure non-discrimination and full and equal enjoyment of all human rights through
the promotion of an active and visible policy of removing stigma against children
orphaned and made vulnerable by HIV
- urge the international community to support and complement national programmes.
One means of mitigating the effect of HIV on orphans and vulnerable children is
to secure their future livelihoods by keeping them in school and providing them
with marketable skills. This involves not just providing education, but addressing
the root causes of child labour, including poverty of their families and food shortages.Whatever regional and local strategies are developed, the international consensus
is that whenever possible, community-based care is preferable to long-term placement
in institutions such as orphanages.
Source: United Nations AIDS info http://www.unaids.org