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Greater attention to children affected by AIDS

UNICEF calls for greater attention to plight of children affected by AIDS

The international community must pay greater attention to children living with parents dying from AIDS as well as those who are themselves HIV-infected but lack access to appropriate treatments, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said today.

The message came as UNICEF and the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) are hosting a two-day Global Partners Forum in London for high-level representatives of 90 international organizations, including both governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

“Children are missing from the world’s response to the global AIDS pandemic,” UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman said. “Less than 10 per cent of the children who have been orphaned or made vulnerable by AIDS receive public support or services.”

The forum will emphasize that communities and families should be the primary beneficiaries of an increased global AIDS response. They should receive a mix of economic assistance, including direct cash grants for affected families and small loans, as well as funds to pay community outreach workers.

Orphans and other children traumatized by AIDS should receive counselling and psychosocial support, UNICEF said. The successful pioneering efforts of NGOs, faith-based organizations and community groups should be expanded into national programmes.

Education is one of the most important weapons against the spread of AIDS, the agency said. In countries with severe epidemics, young people with higher levels of education are more likely to use protective condoms and less likely to engage in casual sex than their less-educated peers. Educated children are also more likely to escape the poverty trap that ensnares orphans and forces children to take care of their sick or dying parents.

“Twenty five years into the epidemic, considerable progress has been made in mobilizing the world against AIDS,” said Dr. Peter Piot, the Executive Director of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). “But when it comes to accessing HIV prevention and treatment services, children and young people continue to be left behind. If we are to break the cycle of HIV infection, children and young people must know how to protect themselves from HIV.”

In the context of identification, improving the registration of births and deaths in many countries would make it easier for children to obtain official records proving that they are orphans and making them eligible for such benefits as food aid and free medical care, UNICEF said.

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