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HIV/AIDS in Asia-Pacific: Focus on children

Fighting HIV/AIDS in Asia-Pacific region must focus on children – UNICEF

With HIV and AIDS spreading at a faster rate in East Asia than almost anywhere else in the world, children must be at the centre of a dramatically scaled up response, a United Nations official told the opening session of the first high level regional meeting focusing on children and AIDS today.

“For the most part, children remain off the radar screen when we measure the risk and impact of HIV and AIDS,” the Regional Director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) for East Asia and the Pacific, Anupama Rao, said in Hanoi, Vietnam. “This is no longer acceptable. We have an opportunity now to change the status quo for children by vastly accelerating our response, and we must seize it.”

HIV and AIDS have caused immense suffering for children in East Asia and the Pacific. By the end of last year, an estimated 450,000 children had lost one or both parents to AIDS, while hundreds of thousands more were living with a chronically ill or dying parent.

More than 30,000 children were living with HIV or AIDS, nearly 11,000 of them newly infected last year. Millions more children and young people in the region are at high risk of HIV infection or suffer from stigma and discrimination.

Experts say the true extent of the region’s epidemic is likely understated. The lack of good quality and consistent data on children and young people greatly hinders East Asia’s response to epidemic. Currently, only a few countries in the region collect such data, and rarely break it down by area.

The three-day meeting, the East Asia and Pacific Regional Consultation on Children and AIDS, which brings together over 200 delegates from governments, civil society, UN agencies and donors, presents an opportunity to agree to urgently needed actions to stem the spread and mitigate the impact of HIV and AIDS among children and young people.

Prevention is the key to warding off a generalized epidemic across the region that would affect many more millions of children, but success in prevention is contingent on aggressive efforts to combat pervasive stigma and discrimination and in overcoming a host of other barriers, UNICEF said.

These include religious and cultural taboos which deter parents and educators from addressing topics such as safe sex and condom use, limited financial resources for prevention, and inadequate information and education about the disease.

A recent survey of young people conducted by Save the Children, an independent organization, in six countries in the region, revealed that while many children and young people have basic access to HIV/AIDS information, that information is often inadequate and ineffective. Further, many of the most vulnerable of children say that they do not have access HIV prevention services.

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