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Strengthening Resolve To Help Those Most In Need

Strengthening Resolve To Help Those Most In Need

20 October 2009

by Jimmy Kolker Chief of HIV and AIDS – UNICEF


Natasha is a young mother living with HIV in Zambia. Her newborn son Fanwick was born HIV-negative, thanks to medicines Natasha received while pregnant and during birth to stop the transmission of the virus. Unemployed and alone, Natasha lives with her mother, siblings and the orphaned children of her brother, who died of AIDS. For many women like Natasha, the challenge of supporting themselves and their children is daunting. 

While the economic outlook in Zambia has been brightening over the last few years, many Zambians have yet to share in the benefit. Two-thirds of the population lives on less than $1 a day. Zambia has been hard hit by HIV/AIDS; the adult prevalence rate is over 16%. The food crisis across Southern Africa and now the economic crisis, are adding to the financial pressure poor families affected by HIV and AIDS already face.

The World Bank predicts that the economic recession will bring a drop in the remittances that workers send home to their families, along with a decline in economic growth for developing countries.  For those with too little already, whether they live in Africa or in East Asia and the Pacific, that can add up to even less money available for essential health services and education.

They and their families are affected by an epidemic so vast that its scope is difficult to imagine.  Around the world, an estimated 15 million children have lost one or both parents to the HIV/AIDS.  Twelve million of them live in sub-Saharan Africa.  As of 2007, nearly 2 million children under 15 were themselves HIV-positive and will at some stage need to access lifesaving medicines and care.

The epidemic makes poverty worse by adding the cost of medicine and care to household budgets that are already stretched thin.  It forces families to choose between necessities such as food and investment in children, including education.  And if a working parent falls ill, the children may have to leave school and support the family themselves.

Fortunately, we know what it takes to protect and safeguard the rights of children in this period of economic crisis, because of our experience in dealing with the impact of HIV and AIDS. We have seen that when people are already poor, it only takes one major setback to leave them with nothing. 

But an approach to aid known as social protection can give families the traction they need to keep from being pushed over the edge.  It offers countries a range of options to safeguard their most vulnerable and impoverished people against the force of adverse events such as chronic illness – or a global recession. 

Social protection uses a mix of interventions tailored to individual and country circumstances.  Cash payments, food stamps and pensions can help children and families avoid destitution. Community workers can assist in connecting families with life-saving health and social services. And simply by ensuring that every child has a birth certificate, we can increase their chances of attending school. Steps like these are direct, effective, and make a profound difference for children and adults in need.

However, measures to care for children affected by HIV and AIDs are only as strong as the funding they receive from national and donor governments.  That support is crucial at this time of economic crisis.

The downturn affects not just the developing world, but donor countries as well -- and their donations are critical.  In many places, such as the Pacific Islands and Papua New Guinea, HIV/AIDS programmes rely on significant funding from international donors, including New Zealand.

Through the support of the people of New Zealand, UNICEF has been able to provide assistance for programmes to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission.  They operate like the programme that helped Natasha and Fanwick in Zambia.  New Zealand’s funding also goes toward training in midwifery and paediatric postgraduate studies at the University of Papua New Guinea’s School of Medicine and Health Sciences.


UNICEF works closely with the PNG government to roll out programmes that ensure effective care and treatment for both mothers and children.  We also support prevention and community-based efforts to address stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV.

The current economic climate unquestionably poses challenges, but it also presents opportunities.  Among them is the chance to strengthen our resolve to back those most in need.  To maintain giving, even in difficult times, not only affirms our commitment to the rights of all children, but also acknowledges that our shared humanity makes every child our own.

Jimmy Kolker

Chief of HIV and AIDS - UNICEF

© Scoop Media

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