'Children and AIDS: Third Stocktaking Report' advocates early HIV testing
By Roshni Karwal
NEW YORK, 1 December 2008 – A new report from four UN agencies entitled ‘Children and AIDS: Third Stocktaking Report, 2008’ is advocating for increased HIV testing for newborns as young as six-weeks-old. It was coordinated to be released on 1 December – World AIDS Day.
“The prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV is not only effective, but also a human right,” said UNAIDS Executive Director Dr. Peter Piot.
The jointly prepared report focuses on four core components: the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT); paediatric treatment; preventing infection among adolescents and protection and care for children affected by HIV/AIDS.
A critical window
Early and accurate diagnosis coupled with proper treatment can significantly improve the survival prospects of newborns who have been exposed to HIV.
The stocktaking report cites the study, 'Children with HIV Early Antiretroviral Therapy' which demonstrated a 76 per cent reduction in mortality when treatment was initiated within the first 12-weeks of life.
Yet, in 2007, less than 10 per cent of infants born to mothers living with HIV were tested before they were two-months-old.
Increased testing during pregnancy
Counselling and support is critical for new mothers living with HIV in order to help inform choices that must be made around the time of early infant diagnosis.
The report recommends increased access to HIV testing for mothers and pregnant women. In 2007, only 18 per cent of pregnant women in low- and middle-income countries were given an HIV test.
“We are seeing good progress in many countries, especially in parts of Africa, but we need to significantly scale-up HIV testing and treatment for pregnant women,” said Dr. Piot.
Young people and adolescents
Addressing prevention in young people and adolescents is also a key section of the report, which notes that school-based programmes can be a crucial avenue for reaching them with gender-sensitive information and life-skills.
For example, an ‘HIV Alert School’ model has been adopted in Ghana as a national strategy for school-based HIV prevention. Parent-teacher associations and school management committees at these schools discuss HIV and AIDS as part of their regular meetings.
On average, about 30 per cent of males and 19 per cent of females between the ages of 15–24 in developing countries have comprehensive and correct knowledge about HIV and how to avoid transmission.
Care for vulnerable children
The last section of the report advocates for expanded protection and care for the approximately 15 million children globally who have lost either one or both of their parents due to AIDS, sparking greater attention to the needs of all vulnerable children.
“We are making real progress in terms of prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and of treatment of young people, but at the same time there is a huge amount that needs to be done,” said UNICEF Chief of HIV/AIDS Jimmy Kolker.
The ‘Children and AIDS: Third Stocktaking Repor 2008’ was jointly prepared by UNICEF, the World Health Organization, UNAIDS and the United Nations Population Fund.
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