Crucial time to turn commitments into action
NEW YORK, 3 June 2011 - Global efforts to improve the lives of children affected by HIV and AIDS are increasing but still fall short of the growing needs of millions. At the end of 2010, an estimated 16.6 million children lost one or both parents to AIDS – 14.9 million of these in sub-Saharan Africa.
This year’s Global Partners Forum on children affected by AIDS, under the heading of ‘Taking Evidence to Impact’, jointly hosted by UNICEF, the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and UNAIDS, has brought together 100 high level representatives from governments, civil society, donors, international organisations and academic institutions in an effort to promote evidence based approaches to improve the lives of children affected by AIDS.
The two-day Forum which starts today will review:
Lessons learned at country level to support HIV affected children and their families;
Mechanisms that protect children affected by AIDS from marginalization and discrimination, and increase their access to key social services;
How to overcome barriers and increase access to HIV prevention, treatment and care services;
How to increase the impact of our investments and achieve greater results for those in greatest need.
Many HIV-affected children continue to face enormous challenges, including the burden of care for sick relatives, trauma from the loss of parents, economic distress due to declining household incomes and high health costs, and the risk of early sexual debut and abuse, which in turn can make children – particularly girls – more susceptible to HIV infection.
“These children have already experienced the tragedy of losing a parent or a loved one to AIDS – only to be subjected to stigma, discrimination and exclusion from school and social services,” said UNICEF Director Anthony Lake. “To help these children reach their full potential, we urgently need to invest in national social protection programmes that fight poverty and stigma, and which address the special needs of HIV-affected families."
Equity analysis also shows that the poorest households are often least resilient to the impacts of HIV, and that HIV is in itself impoverishing.
In settings where epidemics are still relatively concentrated, HIV-affected children often have parents who are highly stigmatized. In addition disability, displacement, ethnicity and punitive laws often make children affected by AIDS more vulnerable. Access to social services and progressive legislation to reduce social exclusion are all essential in improving the lives of children and communities affected by HIV and AIDS.
“The U.S. Government is the largest supporter of programs targeting orphans and vulnerable children, and we remain firm in our commitment,” said Ambassador Eric Goosby, U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator. “Failure to address the needs of orphans and vulnerable children will have a long-term impact on both individuals and society. Moving forward, we have a shared responsibility to make smart investments that will ultimately ensure a positive future for children affected by HIV/AIDS.”
Families and Communities are integral to improving HIV responses. Early childhood development centres and community based child protection committees can serve as referral and entry points for linking vulnerable children and their families to social care and health services.
Efforts to prevent HIV transmission from mother to child (PMTCT) are also critical and can serve as an entry point for care and support for the whole family, particularly through better integration of couples testing and counselling; HIV treatment, care and support; and linkages with HIV testing and treatment within child health services.
“Every mother, father and child should have access to comprehensive health care which includes HIV prevention and treatment,” said Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS. “Parents should be given the chance to protect their children from HIV and access life-saving antiretroviral medicine for their own health.”
Given that the effects of HIV and AIDS will be felt for generations, building stronger, sustainable health and social care systems is essential as part of a comprehensive national response. To anchor this response, improved human resources are often needed to connect the most vulnerable households and families impacted by AIDS to the necessary services.
Evidence show that in generalized epidemic settings, social protection along with cash transfers, livelihood programmes – such as microfinancing, savings and loans, and the provision of agricultural inputs – can have a significant impact on poor households affected by AIDS.
The recommendations from the Global Partners Forum are taken forward by a global Inter-Agency Task Team on children affected by AIDS and will be reflected in discussions during the UN High Level Meeting in New York from 8-9 June 2011.