HIV/AIDS Report Exposes Myths that Fuel Epidemic

A recent report on HIV/AIDS found that the global response to the epidemic is based on significant misconceptions that have resulted in policies that fail to meet the needs of millions of children and their families.

One of the biggest misconceptions is that only orphans need support and services, the report by the Joint Learning Initiative on Children and HIV/AIDS (JLICA) spotlighted in its first chapter.

The "powerful myth" has led to the belief that the majority of children who lost a parent to AIDS lack family and social networks and need to be cared for in orphanages.

JLICA's research indicates that 88 percent of children designated as orphans in reality have a surviving parent. The report calls on the United Nations to change its definition of an orphan, who are currently defined as "a child who has lost one or both parents," because most AIDS orphans are still supported by immediate or extended family.

"The overwhelming majority of children who have lost a parent to AIDS can and should remain in the care of their families, provided that those families receive appropriate support," JLICA said in its report.

Instead of placing AIDS orphans in orphanages, the report recommends that African families be strengthened and seen as "the foundation of any long-term response to children affected by AIDS."

Governments should provide support and services to the families so they can care for HIV/AIDS children in such areas as health care, education and social welfare.

Also, the support should not only be restricted to children who have lost parents, but to all children who are vulnerable.

"We recognize it is critically important to provide assistance to the family as well as the child in order to help stabilize the child's home environment," commented Amy Metzger, senior health specialist and director of Compassion International's AIDS Initiative, to The Christian Post.

"Therefore, Compassion's AIDS Initiative not only provides treatment and care for children in Compassion's program that are found to be HIV positive and/or have AIDS, but Compassion also provides care to our beneficiaries' nuclear family - his or her siblings and/or caregivers," she said.

The report also argues that prevention campaigns that focus on behavioral change overlooks the "harsh realities" that many children and young people live in. It calls on governments to put money into efforts to increase girls' physical safety in public places such as school, work, public transportation, and recreational sites.

Governments should also help girls stay in school and improve their economic status, the report recommends.

There are an estimated 2 million children living with HIV as of 2007. Meanwhile, some 12 million children in sub-Saharan Africa are estimated to have lost one or both parents to AIDS, representing about 37 percent of parental loss from all causes, according to UNAIDS.

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