SAN SALVADOR, 11 November 2005 – UNICEF, UNAIDS and other partners kicked off today a campaign to focus attention on the devastating impact of AIDS on children and young people, warning that current efforts underway in Latin America and the Caribbean will not be sufficient to halt the pandemic.
They said it is a tragedy that only 5 percent of children living with HIV have access to treatment and millions of adolescents and women affected by the epidemic lack access to care and support. Seventy percent of pregnant women in Latin America and the Caribbean do not have access to HIV testing.
UNICEF said that children affected by the disease are the “missing face” of AIDS – missing not only from global and national HIV/AIDS policies, but also missing from even the most basic care and prevention services. Millions of children are missing parents, siblings, schooling, health care, basic protection and many of the other fundamentals of childhood because of the toll the disease is taking, the two UN institutions said.
During the campaign launch, which took place as part of the first-ever Central American Presidential Summit on HIV/AIDS, UNICEF Regional Director Nils Kastberg and UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot, noted that every hour in Latin America and the Caribbean:
33 people are infected with HIV, 17 of them youth between the ages of15 and 25, and two others through mother-to-child transmission;
Four children are orphaned due to AIDS; and
15 people die from AIDS-related illnesses.
“Twenty-five years into the pandemic, AIDS continues to tear apart families and communities, leaving behind 15 million orphans and robbing countries of their future,” said UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot. “If countries are to develop, we must put children first. Children must therefore be a major priority when it comes to the way we allocate and use resources.”
UNICEF Regional Director Kastberg said: “Today we know what must be done to halt the pandemic – universal access to quality antiretroviral drugs… access to education, condoms, health services, counselling, and voluntary testing, especially for adolescents and pregnant women.”
He said that “societies must come together in the face of this emergency that threatens not only individuals, but also the very social fabric of our countries.”
“Now that universal access to antiretroviral drugs has been endorsed internationally as a principle – in our view, a fundamental ethical principle -- we must work together to eliminate the national and international barriers that still stand in the way of obtaining these medications and making them available to each and every person living with HIV/AIDS, enabling them to live dignified and healthy lives. Universal access should be the watchword of the campaign in our region,” Kastberg said.
He said that in order to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, a major offensive must be mounted against AIDS’ devastating impact on children. Both officials congratulated the Central American leaders for the Declaration they adopted today, in which they commit themselves to stepping up their AIDS prevention and protection efforts aimed at children and youth.
During the launch, President Elías Antonio Saca of El Salvador said on behalf of all the Central American leaders: “We will not rest until our region has stopped and reversed the advance of the epidemic.”
The campaign seeks to achieve the following four goals by 2010:
Prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission through increased provision of prenatal care and sexual and reproductive health services to all women and couples who need them;
Provide paediatric treatment with antiretroviral and other special medications to all children who need them;
Prevent new infections, reducing the number of young people living with HIV/AIDS by 25 percent;
Protect and care for girls and boys affected by AIDS, providing support to at least 80 percent of children in need of care and services.
Speaking at the launch, 16-year-old Panamanian activist Isabel Pimentel called on governments and international agencies to combat the taboos and discrimination that undermine efforts to stop the spread of the epidemic. “They say we’re the missing face of the problem, but we’re not missing! Here we are, your daughters and sons, your students, your neighbours, your citizens! Include us in the fight against AIDS!”
According to UNAIDS, $55 billion will be needed over the next three years, $22 billion in 2008 alone, to confront the AIDS pandemic. There is currently a funding gap of at least $18 billion from 2005-2007. Not only does AIDS funding need to increase dramatically, but a significant portion should be specifically targeted for children affected by the disease.
Both agencies praised a number of governments in Latin America and the Caribbean that have made AIDS a major priority, applauding Brazil in particular, not only for its domestic programmes but also for its provision of antiretroviral drugs to a growing number of countries at no cost. ***
For more information or to arrange interviews, contact: Robert Cohen, UNICEF Media / Panamá: (+507) 6676 3216 Bernardo Pisani, UNICEF Media / San Salvador (+503) 7975 9119 Carmen Vergara, UNICEF Media / San Salvador (+503) 2252 8804 Luciano Milhomen, ONUSIDA Media / Brasil (+55 61) 3038-9222