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Children bear the brunt of the HIV/AIDS epidemic


30 November

World AIDS Day (1 December)

Children bear the brunt of the HIV/AIDS epidemic
Paul Brown National Director, ChildFund New Zealand

Tomorrow marks World AIDS Day – a day when the world is urged to remember the millions of men, women and children affected by this horrific disease.

Over the last 25 years HIV/AIDS has spread relentlessly infecting 65 million people and killing 25 million people. The disease supposedly in its mature epidemic stages continues to expand beyond limits that many experts believed impossible.

This disease remains the biggest health crisis of our time, especially for our most vulnerable generation: our children.

People living with AIDS in the developing world typically suffer the final stages of the disease in their own homes, with little or no medical support. Many children are forced to drop out of school to care for their dying parents, leaving them uneducated and unable to earn a living. HIV/AIDS is robbing these children of their childhood and leaving them vulnerable to exploitation. The love and security of parents and the very family structure children so desperately need is taken from them.

Globally it is estimated that 15 million children are AIDS orphans, with 12 million of them living in sub-Saharan Africa, the epicenter of HIV/AIDS. In Ethiopia alone today the estimate of AIDS orphans stands at 1.2 million. Dr Meherete Menebere, ChildFund HIV/AIDS specialist based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia says that orphaned children are extremely vulnerable from an early age, with no family bread winner there is no guarantee of shelter, food, schooling or clothing.

She says the hardest thing to witness is that most of these children don’t have a future. They are human beings but she asks “What does it mean to be a human being without a future?”

“These children, particularly the girls, are often exploited and are forced to go into commercial sex work. Others will go into child labour working for very little pay. We cannot say these children are existing, they are barely surviving.”

“When children lose parents due to AIDS, they are heading families and it kills their childhoods as they are forced to think and act like adults all the time. Mentally they are stressed and depressed.”

Dr Menebere says that without aid or child sponsorship programmes, provided by international humanitarian agencies such as ChildFund, HIV affected children and AIDS orphans’ basic needs would not be met and these children would be abused and exploited. International humanitarian agencies have programmes in place to prevent the spread of HIV and help people living with HIV/AIDS, but with limited resources and money they are just scratching the surface.

One of the Millennium Development Goal agreed to in 2001 at the Millennium Development Summit and ratified by 189 countries set out to halt the spread of AIDS and turn back the HIV infection rate by 2015. However, if the worldwide response to date on this one issue is not urgently strengthened it is going to seriously endanger the progress of other Millennium Development Goals to reduce poverty, hunger and childhood mortality, as each of these problems is inextricably tied to a lack of response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

New Zealand’s role is critical. As a signatory to the Millennium Development Goals our response to date to honour our commitment of 0.7% Gross National Income to international aid and development by 2015 remains wholly pathetic at 0.27%. Unless the Government puts in place a timeline to meet our commitment New Zealand will be directly contributing to the relentless spread of this disease.

This disease remains the biggest battle of our time. Every day more and more children are infected or orphaned, and yet we have the means to prevent this situation. It is not difficult to put programs and resources in place to prevent the spread of the disease and treat those infected, but it does require money. If New Zealand honored its commitment to 0.7% Gross National Income to aid and development by 2015, it would make a worthy impact on the spread of this terrible disease and on those living in poverty. If we as New Zealanders don’t speak up now and pressure the New Zealand Government then we will be leaving millions upon million of orphans barely surviving on our watch. Come on New Zealand, we have made a commitment, now let’s honor it.

ENDS

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