Children and young people missing in regional response to HIV/AIDS
Regional Consultation on Children and AIDS Opens in Hanoi
HANOI, Vietnam; 22 March 2006 – Children must be at the centre of a dramatically scaled up response to HIV and AIDS in East Asia and the Pacific, organisers of the first high level regional meeting focusing on children and AIDS said.
The organisers, including the Vietnamese Government, NGOs and UN agencies, said that children and young people, who total more than half a billion in the region, must be at the forefront of the HIV and AIDS agenda. They added that “business as usual” is no longer acceptable.
HIV and AIDS are spreading at a faster rate in East Asia than almost anywhere else in the world. Unless there is investment in innovative and far-reaching prevention, treatment, care and support programs for children and young people, this trend will not be reversed.
The East Asia and Pacific Regional Consultation on Children and AIDS, which brings together over 200 delegates, presents a crucial opportunity for governments, civil society, UN agencies and donors to agree to urgently needed actions to stem the spread and mitigate the impact of HIV and AIDS amongst children and young people.
H.E. Mr. Pham Gia Khiem, Deputy Prime Minister of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam said that the Consultation came at an opportune time as countries actively seek to meet the Millennium Development Goals and fulfill the resolutions of the UN General Assembly’s Special Session on HIV/AIDS. “We wish to see more collective and effective actions so that our children can live a better life. Children are the world’s future and we believe this is in the best of interest of progressive and sustainable development,” he said.
HIV and AIDS have caused immense suffering for children in East Asia and the Pacific. By end 2005, an estimated 450,000 children in the region had lost one or both parents to AIDS, while hundreds of thousands more were living with a chronically ill or dying parent. More than 30,000 children were living with HIV or AIDS, of whom nearly 11,000 where newly infected last year. Millions more children and young people in the region are at high risk of HIV infection or suffer from stigma and discrimination.
Lack of quality data
Experts say that the true extent of the region’s epidemic is likely understated. The lack of good quality and consistent data on children and young people greatly hinders the region’s response to epidemic. Currently, only a few countries in the region collect such data, and rarely at a sub-national level.
“For the most part, children remain off the radar screen when we measure the risk and impact of HIV and AIDS”, said Anupama Rao Singh, Regional Director of UNICEF East Asia and the Pacific. “This is no longer acceptable. We have an opportunity now to change the status quo for children by vastly accelerating our response, and we must seize it.”
Prevention is the key to warding off a generalised epidemic across the region that would affect many more millions of children. Success in prevention in East Asia and the Pacific, however, is contingent on aggressive efforts to combat pervasive stigma and discrimination and in overcoming a host of other barriers. These include religious and cultural taboos which deter parents and educators from addressing topics such as safe sex and condom use, limited financial resources for prevention, and inadequate information and education about the disease.
Inadequate information for children
A recent survey amongst young people conducted by Save the Children in six countries in the region, revealed that while many children and young people have basic access to HIV/AIDS information, that information is often inadequate and ineffective. Further, many of the most vulnerable of children say that they do not have access HIV prevention services.
The East Asia and Pacific Regional Consultation comes at a critical juncture. As part of global commitments made at the UN Special Session on HIV/AIDS in 2001, all Governments are required to submit HIV and AIDS response plans to the UN General Assembly in May. The three-day gathering in Hanoi provides a unique platform to ensure that children are not missing from these national “roadmaps” to achieve universal access to prevention, treatment, care and support services by 2010.