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New HIV/AIDS data reveals gravity of situation for children in Asia and the Pacific

UNICEF, Family Health International and Save the Children UK call for urgent action on the protection care and support for infected and affected children

                     
 


DRAFT
EMBARGOED FOR 3 JULY 2005, 05:45 GMT (12:45 LOCAL TIME)

New HIV/AIDS data reveals gravity of situation for children in Asia and the Pacific

UNICEF, Family Health International and Save the Children UK call for urgent action on the protection care and support for infected and affected children

3 July 2005, KOBE, Japan - More than 1.5 million children in Asia and the Pacific are now orphaned by AIDS, according to new regional data, making protection, care and support efforts for children more urgent than ever. 

The data on orphans was revealed at a satellite session on children and HIV/AIDS in Asia and the Pacific organized by UNICEF, Family Health International (FHI) and Save the Children UK during the International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific taking place in Kobe, Japan. 

“This regional data will further help us to target our actions and to get to grips with the magnitude of the problem regarding children in Asia and the Pacific. Accurate data at local, national and regional levels is crucial to how we manage our collective response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic,” said Anupama Rao Singh, Regional Director of UNICEF East Asia and the Pacific Regional Office.

In addition to those orphaned by AIDS, another 121,000 children were estimated to be living with HIV/AIDS in Asia and the Pacific by the end of 2004, with an estimated 47,000 children newly infected last year alone.

For children infected with the virus, the treatment situation is bleak. While almost 35,000 children are in need of antiretroviral drugs in Asia and the Pacific, only a small fraction is currently receiving treatment.  Similarly, more than one quarter of a million children are in need of Cotrimoxazole, a cost-efficient antibiotic which helps prevents HIV-related infections. Only a few children are actual beneficiaries.

While the number of children orphaned by AIDS is alarming, they represent only a segment of those affected by HIV/AIDS. Many more children in Asia and the Pacific are thought to be living with sick and dying parents or relatives and are at risk of losing their caregivers.  Failure to accelerate regional efforts to mitigate the impact of HIV/AIDS on children raises the risk that more children will fall through the cracks and face barriers in accessing education, health care and other basic services.  

“This is an urgent wake up call for action,” said Rao Singh. “We not only have to do much more to protect and care for these children, but also step up primary prevention efforts to halt the spread of HIV/AIDS.”

At the satellite session, UNICEF, FHI and Save the Children UK called for urgent implementation of the Framework for the Protection, Care and Support of Orphans and Vulnerable Children Living in a World with HIV/AIDS. The Framework, drawn up in July 2004, provides five key strategies to mitigate the impact of HIV/AIDS on children.*

The three organizations urged governments to make care and treatment services for children available, affordable and accessible. “We also need to urgently address the issue of stigma, which continues to penalize children living with HIV/AIDS or affected by it,” said Rao Singh. “Ensuring that our youngest and most vulnerable citizens receive the attention they need is not just a humanitarian priority but critical to combating AIDS at a national and global level.”

Most governments in the region have yet to develop national policies and strategies aimed at addressing the issue of HIV/AIDS and children. Only a few countries have a national strategy for the protection and care of children orphaned or made vulnerable by AIDS or for comprehensive care for HIV-positive children and families.

The emotional toll on children affected by HIV/AIDS can be devastating as they suffer from isolation, loss of self-esteem, depression and anxiety.  Because of pervasive stigma and discrimination, they also tend to drop out of school, thus jeopardizing their education and their path to a better future. And even when they do remain in class, they are often taunted and bullied.  Such children are also more vulnerable to high-risk behaviours, including HIV infection.  

Experience has proven that the best way to protect children orphaned by AIDS is to place them in the care of relatives or extended family members in their own community. UNICEF, FHI and Save the Children UK are promoting alternatives to residential/institutional care, wherever possible ensuring that a child who has lost their parents lives with relatives or extended family members, local foster parents or nominated guardians.

“Children in residential care are much more vulnerable to abuse than those who live with families and tend to have much slower development,” said Gopakumar Nair, HIV/AIDS Adviser at Save the Children UK. “We feel strongly that high-quality community-based care alternatives are the best solution for children in this region suffering as a result of HIV/AIDS.”

Better data collection is one way of ensuring that the situation of children infected and affected by HIV/AIDS is on the radar screen of governments.  Statistical information is lacking, in part, due to the difficulty of arriving at a reliable estimate of the numbers of children orphaned by AIDS in concentrated or low-level epidemics – the state of many countries in East Asia and the Pacific.

Another reason for limited data is a shortage of HIV testing facilities in the region and also low utilization of existing voluntary counselling and testing (VCT) services.

"Early testing for HIV offers many benefits, especially for young people, but in most countries it is still rare,” said Kathleen Casey, Regional Senior Technical Officer with Family Health International’s Asia Pacific Division.  “The benefits of voluntary counselling and testing include timely care, improved medical management of HIV-related illnesses, and also the opportunity to reduce the transmission of HIV from mother to child. We need to remove the current barriers to VCT which include a lack of information, perception of low risk, lack of confidentiality, cost, transportation problems and laws that require parental access.”

Hand in hand with the expansion of protection, care and support initiatives for children, focus must continued to be placed on primary prevention, particularly among young people. Preventing infection at its source is the most effective weapon to ensuring that future generations of children will be living a life free from HIV/AIDS.

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*The Framework for the Protection, Care and Support of Orphans and Vulnerable children living in a world with HIV/AIDS was drawn up in collaboration with a broad array of governmental agencies, faith-based and non-government organizations, academic institutions, the private sector and civil society.

The framework key’s strategies are as follows:

1. Strengthen the capacity of families to protect and care for orphans and vulnerable children, prolonging the lives of parents and providing economic, psychosocial and other support
2. Support community-based initiatives.
3. Ensure access for orphans and vulnerable children to essential services including education, health care, birth registration and others;
4. Ensure that governments protect the most vulnerable children through improved policy and legislation and by channelling resources to families and communities
5. Raise awareness at all levels through advocacy to create a supportive environment for children and families affected by HIV/AIDS.

For further information, please contact:
Hiromasa Nakai, Information & Public Affairs, Japan Committee for UNICEF +81 90 6015 1632
Jeanine Bardon, Regional Director Asia/Pacific Division, FHI +81 90 4029 9216
Gopakumar Nair, HIV/AIDS Adviser, Save the Children UK +0044 777 183 8130
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