NEW YORK/GENEVA, 16 January 2007 – A year ago, UNICEF and its partners launched Unite for Children, Unite against AIDS to highlight the missing face of the child in the AIDS pandemic.
Some countries have achieved breakthroughs in preventing HIV transmission from mothers to children and providing treatment for children living with HIV/AIDS, according to “Children and AIDS: A Stocktaking Report,” released Tuesday by UNICEF.
“There is an urgent need to help children impacted by HIV/AIDS,” UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman said Tuesday. “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 mother-to-child transmission
Preventing transmission of HIV from mothers to children and keeping mothers free from HIV/AIDS is paramount. An estimated 530,000 children under 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.
The stocktaking report finds that there are signs of considerable progress, however some high-prevalence countries in Eastern and Southern Africa have achieved breakthroughs at scale in preventing mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV.
In Namibia, the percentage of HIV-infected pregnant women who received antiretrovirals for preventing HIV transmission to their infants increased from six per cent in 2004 to 29 per cent in 2005. In South Africa the percentage increased from 22 per cent in 2004 to 30 per cent in 2005.
Despite these gains, an unconscionably low per cent of pregnant women with HIV are receiving ARVs. In 2005, it was estimated that only nine per cent of pregnant women with HIV in low- and middle-income countries were receiving ARVs for preventing transmission to their children in 2005, an increase from three per cent in 2003.
Access to treatment
The 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 one in ten children needing antiretroviral treatment receives it. Only four per cent of children born to HIV-infected mothers receive prophylactic treatment to prevent opportunistic infections that can be fatal.
Prices of ARV drugs for children have come down dramatically over the past 12-18 months. The Clinton Foundation HIV/AIDS Initiative negotiated a reduction in the cost of paediatric ARVs to less than $0.16 per day, or $60 per year, helping to spur competition in the development of paediatric formulations.
Preventing new infections
The stocktaking report notes that 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 Cote d’Ivoire and Kenya, for example, there are five infected young women for every infected young man.
New evidence suggests that declining HIV prevalence in Kenya, urban areas of Cote d’Ivoire, Malawi and Zimbabwe, and in rural areas of Botswana, has resulted from the adoption of safer sexual behaviour by young people. In more than 70 countries surveyed, testing and use of counselling services increased from roughly 4 million people in 2001 to 16.5 million in 2005.
Supporting orphans and vulnerable children
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, according to the report.
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. This report 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.
For background information “Children and AIDS: A Stocktaking Report” summarizes progress on children and AIDS since Unite for Children, Unite against AIDS was launched in October 2005 by the UN and led by UNICEF. Unite for Children, Unite against AIDS focused on the needs of children in four key areas: preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV, scaling up paediatric care for children infected with the virus, preventing new infections amongst teenagers and young people, and supporting children affected by HIV/AIDS.
About UNICEF For 60 years UNICEF has been the world’s leader for children, working on the ground in 156 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.