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UNICEF Urges GA to Focus on Children and the Young

UNICEF chief urges United Nations General Assembly to focus on children and young people in deliberations on HIV/AIDS

Progress on meeting HIV/AIDS goals to be focus of full-day debate; in areas relating to children and young people, the international community gets low marks

NEW YORK, 22 September 2003 ? UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said that when the UN General Assembly meets today to review the international community's performance in crafting and financing the global response to the HIV/AIDS crisis, one thing should focus people's minds: "We are not reaching the two billion children and young people who will determine the future course of the HIV/AIDS pandemic."

AIDS has killed 28 million people, and an estimated 42 million are living with HIV and AIDS. Many children and young people now watching their most critical adult caregivers succumb to the disease are those at greatest risk of becoming infected, Bellamy said. Every day, 6,000 young people between the ages of 15 and 24 become HIV-positive.

Girls are being hardest hit.

The lives of infants and young children are also enormously threatened. Two thousand children below the age of 15 become HIV-positive every day. Nine out of 10 infections occur during pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding, and are largely preventable. Many of these children will die before their fifth birthday.

Less headline-grabbing but perhaps more worrisome, Bellamy said, are the millions of children and adolescents who have been orphaned due to AIDS and the millions more growing up in households struggling with the severe emotional, financial and social trauma of AIDS-related sickness.

The full-day General Assembly gathering marks the first of three time-bound benchmarks set out in the Declaration of Commitment, the international community's agreed-upon blueprint for reversing the spread of infection, and caring for those already infected.

The goal for 2003: to have set in place the policies and funding for a massively accelerated response. A progress report issued in July by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, based primarily on responses by 100 Member States, will frame the discussion.

"The findings show impressive movement on policy," Bellamy said, "but the vast majority of children and young people are more vulnerable than ever."

According to the Secretary-General's report, 88 countries have adopted strategies to promote reproductive and sexual health for young people; 80 countries report national policies to prevent parent-to-child transmissions; and only 60 countries have policies addressing the needs of children orphaned by the disease.

"What everyone at the table can agree on," Bellamy said, "is that young people are at the centre of the AIDS crisis, and what happens to them will determine the future of the epidemic."

The Secretary-General's report notes that in Uganda, and more recently in Ethiopia and Malawi, effective prevention programmes have cut infection rates among young people, Bellamy said. "But frankly, we are not reaching children and young people, and we aren't protecting the most vulnerable.. Giving them the tools they need to make safe, healthy decisions ? the appropriate information, knowledge, skills and support ? must be the backbone of our work."

Least attention had been paid to who have been left vulnerable by the disease - particularly those forced to drop out of school to care for sick family members or to supplement household incomes, Bellamy said. The orphan crisis ? particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, is massive, growing and long-term, with the estimated 11 million orphans due to AIDS in the region expected to grow to 20 million by the close of the decade.

"Children orphaned by AIDS go through extreme stress. They are affected by actions over which they have no control and in which they had no part. They deal with the most trauma, face the most dangerous threats and have the least protections," Bellamy said.

"Families and communities have shouldered the burden of caring, but far too many can't cope any more and are breaking up. They need immediate help if they are to continue to care for these already vulnerable children. The fact that some of the most heavily-affected countries don't already have plans in place to support and protect vulnerable children spells out uncertain, unstable and insecure futures for these children and their societies," Bellamy said.

Also according to the UN report:

· Prevention programmes reach a mere fraction of out-of-school youth ? an estimated eight pe rcent in sub-Saharan Africa, four percent in Latin America and the Caribbean and three per cent in Asia and the Pacific, Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

· Less than one in four people at risk of infection are able to obtain basic information on HIV/AIDS, and only one in nine people seeking to know their HIV serostatus have access to voluntary counselling and testing services.

· Access to services that help parents prevent transmitting HIV to their children is extremely limited. In sub-Saharan Africa in 2001, about one percent of women in antenatal settings were estimated to have access to these services.

Bellamy said the global funding picture was bleak. While funding for developing countries has increased significantly, from less than $300 million in 1996 to approximately $4.7 billion in 2003, the amount still falls far short of the $10.5 billion required annually by 2005. "The shortfall will be paid for in human lives and suffering," she added.


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