Agencies: Children are the Missing Face of HIV/AIDS

UNITED NATIONS – Some 2.3 million children under the age of 15 are living with HIV worldwide, and the majority of them are without access to any form of care or treatment, according to a new report released Friday.

"Protect children," urged seven of the world's leading child advocacy organizations who brought attention to the missing face of HIV and AIDS treatment.

Since the effort to achieve the Millennium Development Goals began in September 2000, the international community has made considerable increases in investment to combat the HIV and AIDS pandemic but the millions of infected children have remained forgotten on the receiving end of those commitments. Global Movement for Children's (GMC) newly launched report Saving Lives: Children's right to HIV and AIDS treatment paints the face of children into the devastating picture of the epidemic to give them their chance at life and to respond to the deaths that are "not inevitable," as GMC Chairman Dean Hirsch stated.

"HIV children are particularly invisible. Children should not be hidden or lost in this effort [to fight] HIV and AIDS," said Hirsch, also president of World Vision International.

The care and the treatment are there, but less than 5 percent of HIV-positive children have access to it, as stated in the report. GMC calls for the recognition of children's right to treatment as a fundamental human right and urges immediate action including child specific treatment targets in order to fulfill the MDG promise of ensuring treatment for all by 2010.

"Children are the missing face of HIV and AIDS," said Ann M. Veneman, executive director of UNICEF. "Millions have watched their worlds shatter around them because of this disease, losing parents, teachers, a sense of security and hope for the future. Children affected by HIV and AIDS are often discriminated against and face enormous odds."

According to the report, children account for only 14 percent of overall HIV infections, but they represent 18 percent of all AIDS deaths.

Despite increased funding to the HIV/AIDS fight, GMC urges investment for children including the accessibility of affordable diagnostic tests and strong health-care systems. Additionally, a large part of the fight to save children is education.

One-third of the women in Africa were reported to have had forced sex in their first sexual encounter, Veneman noted. The NGO heads paralleled education with the HIV/AIDS virus.

"The more we educate them, the more we will stem the [HIV] tide," said Veneman.

Currently, World Vision International is working on moving children, especially girls, to secondary school where they are able to learn their rights and become more aware of choice. Hirsch highlighted that when girls particularly are moved to secondary school, their HIV acquisition rate drops by 40 percent.

Investment also has to target reducing and preventing mother-to-child transmission, mentioned Charles MacCormack, president and CEO of Save the Children USA. The knowledge on how to do so is already there, but the resources to make them more available is lacking.

On a positive note, Hirsch reported committed efforts to bring treatment to children in such countries as Malawi, Uganda, and Zambia. He highlighted "intentionality" among the nations' leaders to protect children.

"With intentionality, it can be done."

More than anything, however, the AIDS fight is a group effort.

"The participation of a broad range of partners is critical," stressed Veneman. "Through strengthened partnerships among governments, donors, international agencies and the private sector, we must do everything possible to ensure that drugs, diagnostic equipment and resources are available to treat children."

The Global Movement for Children is a united effort to build a world fit for children commissioned by ENDA Tiers Monde, the Latin America and Caribbean Network for Children, Oxfam, Plan, Save the Children, UNICEF and World Vision.