UNICEF Executive Director speaks on 'Keeping the Promise' at XVII International AIDS Conference
By Thomas Nybo
MEXICO CITY, Mexico, 5 August 2008 – UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman headed a UNICEF delegation to the 17th International AIDS Conference in Mexico City yesterday, where she led a session entitled 'Keeping the promise: Unite for Children, Unite against AIDS.'
"Children have been the missing face of the AIDS pandemic and this must change," Veneman said during her keynote address. "Results will be measured in lives saved and lives improved."
The session highlighted innovations in the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, paediatric treatment and the protection of children living with HIV and AIDS. Veneman emphasised the success of the work of governments, civil society and UN partners in making progress in stopping the pandemic. But, she noted, more must be done to scale up current treatment approaches that do work.
"An estimated 270,000 children under the age of 15 died of HIV-related causes in 2007, and 15 million children have lost one or both parents to AIDS," she said. "Millions more have experienced deepening poverty, school drop-out and discrimination as a result of the pandemic. Gender-based violence, exploitation of young girls, and raping babies because people believe it's a cure of AIDS is also a continuing problem."
UNICEF and MTV
In the popular Global Village area of the conference, which is open to the public, UNICEF teamed up with MTV for a standing-room-only screening of 'XPRESS', a documentary film about young people and AIDS in Latin America and the Caribbean. The film is the third documentary UNICEF and MTV have co-produced about HIV, sex, violence and homophobia.
One of the emerging themes of the conference is how to acknowledge that progress has been made in certain areas, such as the prevention of mother to child transmission during childbirth, without getting complacent or losing track of the shortcomings in fighting HIV and AIDS.
UNAIDS Executive Director Dr. Peter Piot put the challenge in perspective during a press conference in the main meeting area on Sunday.
The treatment gap
"For every person who is newly put on treatment, there are nearly three new infections in people," Dr. Piot said. "And so the gap between those who are in need of treatment and those who are accessing treatment is getting wider and wider. So we need to intensify prevention in the long term to stop this epidemic. But also, in the meantime, we need to expand treatment. Three million people on anti-retroviral therapy is good news but there are double as many who do not have access to treatment."
As Dr. Piot spoke these words, one of the conference participants in attendance was youth activist Keren Gonzalez, a 12-year-old girl from Honduras. Having lived with HIV her entire life, she listened closely, knowing that many children less fortunate than her are among the countless people with no access to the anti-retroviral medications that could save their lives.
The International AIDS Conference continues through 8 August.
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