NEW YORK, 3 September 2004 - The growing number of children living with HIV/AIDS must be a central concern of accelerated efforts to provide scaled-up treatment and care for those living with the disease, health and development experts said today.
“The global treatment discussion is only beginning to factor in the needs of children, in terms of the kinds of drugs and technologies that are developed and the resources that are allocated,” said Peter McDermott, who heads UNICEF’s HIV/AIDS programme. “UNICEF is committed to bringing together the best and most experienced thinkers, planners and practitioners to address this complex and urgent problem.”
More than 60 top experts are meeting at UNICEF in New York to develop a common plan to ensure that children living with HIV/AIDS get optimal treatment and care and that the needs of children are put on the global treatment agenda.
In 2003, 700,000 children were infected with HIV. More than 3 million children are now HIV-positive, 2.8 million of them in sub-Saharan Africa.
AIDS manifests more severely and more quickly in children because compared to adults they have immature immune systems. The majority of children born with HIV die before age five. Globally, between seven and eight per cent of deaths in children under 5 are now attributable to AIDS. In hard-hit countries, AIDS causes between 30 and 50 per cent of deaths among under-fives.
Dr. Charles Gilks, Director and Coordinator, HIV Treatment, Prevention and Scale-Up for WHO called the WHO-UNAIDS 3 x 5 initiative an unprecedented opportunity to reach millions of people with life-saving drugs. “We must ensure that children are part of the equation and that we come up with child-specific approaches that address their unique needs,” he said.
Children with AIDS represent a disproportionate number of those needing immediate treatment.
Challenges to providing treatment for children with AIDS include the lack of facilities and technologies for early diagnosis of HIV in children, poor health infrastructure and systems, lack of trained and skilled health personnel and the unavailability of paediatric ARV formulations.
“We faced similar challenges six years ago with the first efforts to prevent transmission of HIV from parents to children,” said McDermott. “But despite the challenges, we are confident that with the kind of commitments we are seeing from partners here, we will succeed.”
Participants included experts from Baylor International AIDS Institute, Catholic Relief Services, Clinton Foundation, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, Family Health International, Medecins Sans Frontieres, Population Council, Sidaction U.K. Medical Research Council, UNAIDS, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), World Food Program (WFP), World Health Organisation (WHO), Botswana, Brazil, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, India, Russia, South Africa, Thailand, Uganda, Zambia and others.
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