Goal: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases

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Targets by 2015:
Halt and begin to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Halt and begin to reverse the incidence of malaria and other major diseases.

Millions of children are dying needlessly.

Disease is a cruelly potent child killer, especially when combined with the poverty in which much of the developing world lives. In the absence of good nutrition, sanitation and health care, HIV/AIDS, malaria, measles, polio and tuberculosis mean a certain end to millions of children who would survive and flourish elsewhere.

The AIDS pandemic hits all sectors of society in a cycle of illness and wasted lives: Ill parents are unable to work and support the family; children drop out of school to help; orphans fall prey to violence, disease and, perhaps later, HIV/AIDS – and a poverty-stricken country is even less able to support its citizens.

Yet directly, malaria is proportionally an even more vicious killer of children under five in the developing world. Contracted during a pregnancy, it can seriously affect the size and development of a newborn.  It keeps children from attending school and adults from working. It costs Africa billions of dollars every year in lost gross domestic product.

Other diseases claim large numbers of small victims. Malnutrition and AIDS are contributing to an increase in tuberculosis cases. Outbreaks of polio and cholera require fast, experienced action in some of the world’s hardest-to-reach areas.

Over the decades, research and experience has clearly shown what needs to be done, what works and what doesn’t. There are measures that are proven to work and to be cost-effective, including micronutrient supplementation, insecticide-treated mosquito nets, breastfeeding and interventions to improve basic health care. These are the backbone of UNICEF’s advocacy and activities to help defeat disease and achieve Millennium Goal 6 – and Goal 4, child survival, as well.

UNICEF responds by:

Focusing on HIV/AIDS and children. UNICEF directs its efforts in several key areas to combat this pandemic, the first being prevention. With government and civil partners, UNICEF helps reduce adolescent risks and vulnerability to HIV/AIDS by increasing access to and use of gender-sensitive sexual and reproductive health promotion and disease-prevention information, skills and services.

For example, UNICEF helps organize information campaigns on HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, and helps increase young people’s access to youth-friendly, gender-sensitive health services that provide voluntary testing and counselling, especially in countries affected by emergencies.

UNICEF also supports actions of governments in preventing parent-to-child transmission of the virus. Pregnant women with HIV can halve the chance of passing HIV on to their babies if they have access to anti-retroviral drugs. UNICEF helps strengthen government capacities to ensure that both women and children receive an equitable share of ARV treatment.

UNICEF also promotes counselling on best breast feeding practices so that every parent affected by HIV/AIDS knows how to help prevent its transmission to newborns. In addition, UNICEF promotes and supports programmes that help families and children who have lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS. These programmes provide assistance with schooling, health services, psychosocial support, and health services.

Working with partners to Roll Back Malaria. Malaria afflicts primarily the poor, who tend to live in malaria-prone areas in dwellings that offer few, if any, barriers against mosquitoes. Household use of insecticide-treated nets (ITNs) is still limited, as the nets are too expensive or unavailable in some areas.

Pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to malaria as pregnancy reduces a woman’s immunity, making her more susceptible to infection and increasing the risk of illness, severe anaemia and death. For the unborn child, maternal malaria increases the risk of spontaneous abortion, stillbirth, premature delivery and low birth weight, a leading cause of child mortality.

UNICEF, along with the United Nations Development Programme and the World Bank, joined with the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1998 to found the global partnership Roll Back Malaria, with the goal of halving the burden of malaria. With UNICEF heading activities in East and West Africa, the group of global partners – including governments of malaria-endemic countries, donor governments, international organizations, private foundations and academic institutions – has worked together on a range of interventions to control malaria.

Foremost among these is mass-purchasing ITNs, the most effective prevention against malaria, and developing local distribution systems for them. The partners have also worked to encourage companies, especially in Africa, to manufacture the nets themselves.

Pregnant women, especially those who are pregnant for the first time, can take medicines to prevent and treat malaria. Home management of the disease – which involves educating and training families and providing pre-packaged high-quality medicines – allows families to care for their own children effectively and quickly, an important asset as malaria can kill within hours.

Roll Back Malaria partners with pharmaceuticals to purchase and deploy effective antimalarial drugs called artemisinin-based combination therapies, and to research diagnostic tests. Along with its partners, UNICEF mobilizes communities, particularly via prenatal clinics, to provide preventive drug treatment against the disease, and advocates teaching mothers, shopkeepers and other local people to recognize the symptoms of malaria and treat the disease at home.

Progress

The world is off track for meeting its health goals. HIV prevalence is still rising in some countries, particularly in Europe and Asia, and the rate of prevalence in southern Africa remains the highest of all regions. Although global spending on AIDS has increased, many people who need anti-retroviral treatment in developing countries still do not have had access to the required medicines. Meanwhile, malaria is a persistent killer, but some inroads have been seen in monitoring, treatment and ITN coverage.

Read Thematic Paper on MDG 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases [PDF]