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AIDS Orphans To Reach 17 Million in Six Years

To Cut Number Of Aids Orphans, UN Expert Urges Anti-Retrovirals For Parents

With the number of African AIDS orphans likely to reach nearly 17 million in six years, priority should now be given to providing the surviving parent free anti-retroviral drugs, a representative of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said today.

Martin Mogwanja, the agency's top official in Uganda, was commenting on a new report, Children on the Brink 2004 - released by UNICEF, UNAIDS and USAID at this week's 15th International AIDS Conference in Bangkok, Thailand - predicting that by 2010 sub-Saharan Africa will be home to about 50 million orphaned children, a third of whom will have lost one or both parents to AIDS.

Increasing the availability of anti-retroviral therapy and giving priority enrolment in free anti-retroviral (ARV) programmes to the surviving parent would provide a "stronger and more forward-looking response" to the needs of all children orphaned and made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS, Mr. Mogwanja said in Kampala, Uganda.

"The availability of free anti-retrovirals in Uganda now provides an unprecedented opportunity to assure the survival of at least one parent, who can remain alive to provide love and care for that child," he said. "Priority enrolment for these surviving parents must become embedded as policy in all anti-retroviral programmes."

Thailand, Cambodia, Uganda and Senegal are seen as being among the most successful developing countries in fighting the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

Between 2001 and 2003 the global number of children orphaned due to AIDS rose from 11.5 million to 15 million, the vast majority in Africa, according to the report. The proportion of children who lost parents due to AIDS rose from just under 2 per cent in 1990 to over 28 per cent in 2003.

In Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, other regions covered by the report, however, orphan numbers have dropped by around one-tenth since 1990.

While HIV prevalence rates remain low in Asia, the absolute numbers of orphaned children are four times higher there. In 2003, there were 87.6 million orphans due to all causes in Asia, double sub-Saharan Africa's 43.4 million.

"Parts of Sub-Saharan Africa are undergoing a tidal wave of orphaning, in varying degrees due to AIDS," UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said. "The report clearly spells out what's best for children: keeping their parents alive and healthy, ensuring that they get good education, and strengthening the laws, policies and norms that protect children from exploitation and abuse."

While schooling is considered essential to helping orphans rise out of poverty, almost half of all countries in the world have failed to provide free primary education to those in need. A March UN report found that over 40 Saharan African countries charge fees for grade school.

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