By Priyanka Pruthi
NEW YORK, USA, 19 July 2010 – As thousands of experts from around the world gather at the XVIII International AIDS Conference in Vienna, Austria, UNICEF is drawing attention to one the most pressing concerns in the struggle against HIV – the marginalization of those affected by the disease, especially children.
|VIDEO: Nina Ferencic, UNICEF Senior Advisor on HIV and AIDS for Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States, and co-author of 'Blame and Banishment', discusses the report.|
Today, UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake launched a groundbreaking report on the social exclusion of children and young people affected by HIV and AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the only region where HIV infection rates remain clearly on the rise.
Titled ‘Blame and Banishment’, the report highlights the underlying causes of the epidemic that are unique to Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and continue to force it underground.
Discussing the report’s findings, Mr. Lake pointed out that only 24 per cent of those in need of treatment in Eastern Europe and Central Asia receive it – the world’s second lowest ratio of treatment coverage. The region is badly off track to meet the challenge of Millennium Development Goal #6, which calls for halting and beginning to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS by 2015.
Epidemic affecting the youth
The current economic and political crises in Eastern Europe and Central Asia have revealed fragile foundations of societies confronted with economic hardship. Amidst rising unemployment, social pressures and the crumbling of social safety nets, many families have found themselves unable to cope. As a result, children from troubled families have been pushed onto the streets.
|© UNICEF Austria/2010/Kuderna|
|At launch of the UNICEF report 'Blame and Banishment' (from left): Michel Sidibe, UNAIDS Executive Director; Anthony Lake, UNICEF Executive Director; Nina Ferencic, UNICEF Senior Advisor on HIV and AIDS, and co-author of the report; and Svetlana Izambaeva, AIDS activist and chair of the Svetlana Izambaeva Foundation.|
‘Blame and Banishment’ highlights the issues faced by the more than 1 million children and young people who live or work on the streets of the region, as well as adolescents engaged in risky behaviours and pregnant women using drugs. Today, the region is home to some 3.7 million injecting drug users, representing almost one quarter of the worldwide total
Unfortunately, existing health and social welfare services are not tailored to adolescents at greatest risk, who are often exposed to moral judgment, recrimination and even criminal prosecution when they seek treatment and information on HIV.
“Children and adolescents living on the margins of society need access to health and social welfare services, not a harsh dose of disapproval,” said Mr. Lake.
Living on the edge
‘Blame and Banishment’ sheds a ray of light on the stories of children who are victims of the stigma, shame and fear associated with AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
|Sergei, 15, crouches on the roof of a UNICEF-assisted shelter in the Ukrainian port city of Odessa. The shelter provides food, accommodation, literacy training and an HIV/AIDS-prevention outreach programme for children who live or work on the streets.|
According to report co-author Nina Ferencic, UNICEF’s Senior Advisor on HIV and AIDS in the region, responding to HIV in most countries there means coming to terms with an epidemic that generally affects people deemed to be ‘delinquent’ or ‘anti-social’ – including those who use drugs and have sexually transmitted infections. Public prejudice, moralistic judgments and stigma are the major barriers that discourage open discussion on the subject.
“There’s an unwillingness to acknowledge that there are young people and minors involved in those behaviours,” said Ms. Ferencic.
The road ahead
‘Blame and Banishment’ emphasizes the need for a paradigm shift from blame and exclusion to support and inclusion.
“We cannot break the trajectory of the AIDS epidemic in Eastern Europe and Central Asia without empowering and protecting children and adolescents,” said Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS, who was on hand for the launch of the report. “We must not rob them of their childhood. It is our responsibility to ensure that they have access to HIV prevention and treatment services,” he added.
Looking ahead, the report calls for action on strengthening health care and social services for vulnerable families; expanding prevention efforts for vulnerable young people; and ensuring universal access to care, treatment and support for those living with and affected by HIV.
“This report is a call to protect the rights and dignity of all people living with or at risk of exposure to HIV, but especially vulnerable children and young people,” concluded Mr. Lake. “Only by reversing discrimination against people living with HIV can Eastern Europe and Central Asia begin to reverse the spread of the epidemic.”
Watch a public service announcement by UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and film star Ewan McGregor calling for action to stop the spread of HIV among adolescents in Central Asia and Eastern Europe.
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UNICEF report: 'Blame and Banishment'
XVIII International AIDS Conference website
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