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Parliamentarians should Unite for Children, Unite against AIDS

NEW YORK/NAIROBI, 10 May 2006 – Parliamentarians are uniquely placed to make a profound difference for children affected by HIV/AIDS by breaking the silence about the disease’s impact on children and embracing legislation to defend their rights to healthcare, protection and support according to UNICEF, UNAIDS and the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU).

“Children should be at the centre of the global AIDS agenda,” UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman said Wednesday from New York, as the 114th IPU Assembly was underway in Nairobi.  “A child under 15 dies every minute of every day because of AIDS.  Children are the missing face of the AIDS pandemic.”

Veneman said that parliamentarians can help ensure that children are on the agenda of global policymakers, national governments, pharmaceutical companies, academic institutions and public groups responding to the pandemic.

IPU President Pier Ferdinando Casini is committed to ensuring that parliamentarians will take decisive steps to support the millions of children whose lives are being shadowed – and curtailed – by AIDS.

“The challenge of HIV/AIDS is a test of leadership – and we are leaders,” Casini declared.  “We have the influence, and we command the national resources, that will roll back this pandemic.  Parliamentarians can not only tackle the fear and prejudice that fuel the epidemic, but we can ensure that public officials fulfil their responsibilities towards HIV-positive children by providing treatment without discrimination.”

Children under 15 account for one in every six global AIDS-related deaths.  While prices for paediatric drugs have been reduced over the last months, still less than five per cent of young HIV positive children in need of treatment are receiving it.  Only 10 per cent of pregnant women are offered services to stop the spread of HIV to their babies.

In addition to the children infected with HIV, millions more have lost parents, aunts, uncles, teachers and community leaders to the disease.  It is estimated that globally, 15 million children have been orphaned by HIV/AIDS, more than 12 million in sub-Saharan Africa alone.  Many of these children are forced to leave school in order to take care of ailing parents or earn money to support their families.

Addressing these issues is the goal of the ‘Unite for Children, Unite Against AIDS’ global partnership, convened by UNICEF as a platform for urgent and sustained programs, advocacy and fundraising to limit the impact of HIV/AIDS on children and help halt the spread of the disease.  The four key components of the campaign are to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV, provide paediatric treatment, prevent infection among adolescents and young people, and protect and support children affected by AIDS.

The IPU gathering included a panel discussion on children and AIDS featuring Stephen Lewis, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for AIDS in Africa.  Lewis said that the lack of treatment for HIV-positive children “amounts to a death sentence.”

“Without treatment, half of these children will die before their second birthday – 80 per cent before they reach the age of five,” he said.  “These children are missing out on treatment because they are still missing from national policies.  They are forgotten by the public, who see AIDS as an adult disease, and forgotten by leaders who focus on adults when it comes to laws, policies and budgets.”

The panel focused on three concrete ways that parliamentarians can support children affected by HIV/AIDS:

  • Break the silence and end the stigma and discrimination of those affected by HIV and AIDS;
  • Ensure that there are comprehensive policies and/or legislation for HIV and AIDS that include children, and that there is adequate funding;
  • Protect, support and strengthen families and communities most affected by HIV and AIDS.  An essential part of this task involves abolishing school fees, which prevent many children from getting a basic education.

 “We must work together to put children at the centre of the HIV/AIDS agenda and ensure an AIDS-free generation.”

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About UNICEF:
For 60 years UNICEF has been the world’s leader for children, working on the ground in 155 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.  Visit www.unicef.org

About the IPU:
The IPU was established in 1889 and brings together Members of Parliament from over 140 states. It contributes to the defense and promotion of human rights and has a long-standing commitment to the protection of children.  Visit www.ipu.org 

 

 
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