|© UNICEF EAPRO/2006/Nguyen|
|The 13 participating youth delegates wave farewell at the closing session of the East Asia and Pacific Regional Consultation on Children and HIV/AIDS.|
By Jennifer Chen
HANOI, Viet Nam, 24 March 2006 – Government officials and delegates from across East Asia and the Pacific vowed today to take swift and decisive actions tackling the issue of children and HIV/AIDS in the region.
More than 300 representatives from governments, international agencies and activist groups ended the three-day East Asia and Pacific Regional Consultation on HIV/AIDS in Hanoi, Viet Nam, with a ringing endorsement of the “Hanoi Call to Action,” which urges that countries in the region follow specific steps to confront the virus’s impact on children.
“This is the first time in this region that we have collectively made a commitment that maps out concrete action to scale up our response to children and AIDS,” UNICEF’s Regional Director for East Asia and the Pacific, Anupama Rao Singh, said at the meeting’s closing ceremony.
A matter of urgency
In a statement read on his behalf, UNAIDS Executive Director Dr. Peter Piot said it is critically important to place the region’s children and young people high on the HIV/AIDS treatment agenda. Experts warn that any incremental rise in HIV prevalence in East Asia would be devastating because of the region’s massive population.
“Scaling up towards universal access is a matter of the greatest urgency, because many countries in East Asia and the Pacific face a potentially explosive increase in HIV infections,” said Dr. Piot. “Clearly, the starting point for getting towards universal access is to give top priority to services for children and young people.”
Among its recommendations, the Hanoi Call to Action urges countries in the region to accurately assess the situation of children infected and affected by HIV and AIDS. Currently, the nations of East Asia and the Pacific are home to an estimated 31,000 children infected with HIV, while 450,000 have lost one or both parents to AIDS. However, experts at the Hanoi conference noted that much of the region lacks precise data on vulnerable children, including where they are and how to reach them.
Action plans needed
Countries also need to defeat the pervasive stigma associated with HIV and AIDS, the document says. During the three-day consultation, delegates repeatedly stressed that stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS, as well as those in high-risk groups, pose the biggest obstacles to helping children and families affected by the virus.
“We must find a way to reduce stigma, so it does not block the acquisition of needed prevention, treatment and care that both children and their parents need,” said Dr. Beverly Nyberg of the U.S. Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator.
During the consultation’s closing ceremony, under-18 delegates emphasized the need to follow up the meeting with concrete action plans. “We do not need promises, we need actions and activities on HIV prevention, treatment, care and support,” said a youth delegate from Myanmar. “We wish delegates will develop action plans. Please do not lose our hope, our very future.”
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