|A young girl living with HIV in Rio de Janeiro State, Brazil, where she and her mother receive antiretroviral therapy provided free of charge by the Ministry of Health.|
By Dan Thomas
NEW YORK, USA, 16 January 2007 – A global campaign to put children at the heart of the fight against AIDS is gathering momentum but much, much more needs to be done, according to a stocktaking report on the initiative’s first year.
The campaign, UNITE FOR CHILDREN UNITE AGAINST AIDS, was launched by UNICEF, UNAIDS and many other partners at the United Nations in New York on 25 October 2005, aiming to highlight the missing face of children in the world’s response to the AIDS pandemic.
A report released today on year one of the five-year campaign finds that some countries have achieved breakthroughs in preventing HIV transmission from mothers to their children and in providing treatment for children living with HIV.
But an unconscionably low percentage of pregnant women with HIV are receiving the antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) they need to prevent their infants from becoming infected. In 2005, it was estimated that only 9 per cent of pregnant women with HIV in low- and middle-income countries were receiving ARVs for preventing transmission to their children – an increase from 3 per cent in 2003.
Keeping mothers HIV-free
“There is an urgent need to help children impacted by HIV/AIDS,” said UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman. “UNITE FOR CHILDREN UNITE AGAINST AIDS is focused on ensuring treatment for HIV-positive children, prevention of mother-to-child transmission and assisting children who have been orphaned by AIDS. We must build momentum to achieve positive results for children.”
Preventing transmission of HIV from mothers to children and keeping mothers free from HIV/AIDS is paramount, the report says. An estimated 530,000 children under the age of 15 were newly infected with HIV in 2006, mainly through mother-to-child transmission. Without treatment, 50 per cent of infected infants will die before age two.
In Namibia, the percentage of HIV-infected pregnant women who received ARVs to prevent HIV transmission to their infants increased from 6 per cent in 2004 to 29 per cent in 2005, according to the report. In South Africa, the percentage increased from 22 per cent in 2004 to 30 per cent in 2005.
Treatment for children
The stocktaking report notes particular momentum in the provision of treatment to children living with HIV/AIDS, a result of improved testing, better health worker skills, lower drug prices and simpler formulations.
Several countries – including Botswana, India, Rwanda, South Africa and Thailand – have been able to scale up HIV treatment of children by integrating it into treatment sites for adults.
Globally, only 1 in 10 children needing ARV treatment receives it. Only 4 per cent of children born to HIV-infected mothers receive prophylactic treatment to prevent opportunistic infections that can be fatal.
The report says prevention responses are displaying renewed attention on the need to focus strategies on adolescents and young people most at risk. This group includes young women; globally, a higher number of young women are being infected than men. In Côte d’Ivoire and Kenya, for example, there are five infected young women for every infected young man.
The disparity between orphans and non-orphans in access to education is being significantly reduced in several countries, partly due to the abolition of school fees, the report finds.
Finally, the report notes that collecting and disaggregating data by age group and gender is one of the most vital, simple and effective ways of putting children on the AIDS agenda. It uses, for the first time, a baseline against which new and existing data can be measured in order to identify discernible trends regarding children and HIV/AIDS.