What parliamentarians can do about HIV/AIDS
Four children sit outdoors with their aunt with whom they now live. They are among the six children of this woman's two sisters, both of whom died of AIDS
HIV/AIDS is a global emergency. More than 25 million people have died of AIDS since the disease emerged in late 1970s. By 2010, this number is expected to double. In 2005 alone, 3.1 million people died of AIDS, including 570,000 children under 15. Young people are the most vulnerable to the pandemic. Half of the 4.9 new infections in 2005 were among young people aged 15 to 24. More than 14 million children currently under the age of 15 have been orphaned by HIV/AIDS. Four out of five of these children live in sub-Saharan Africa. By 2010, 25 million children are likely to be orphaned by the disease.
Government responses to children affected by HIV/AIDS are at a critical stage, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. In order to fulfill their obligations made in 2001 in the UN Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS, governments in sub-Saharan Africa have committed to develop and implement comprehensive national strategies to support and provide care for orphaned and vulnerable children by the end of 2006. As of now, thirteen countries in the region have developed their plans.
The commitment of parliamentarians to help halt the spread of HIV/AIDS and its impact on children is crucial because:
- They are leaders.
- They have the mandate and public trust to act in the interests of humanity.
- They command the influence and resources needed to secure progress for orphaned and vulnerable children.
What can parliamentarians do?
Through regional and political structures, such as the African-European Parliamentarian Consultation (AWEPA), the African Union (AU), and the International Parliamentary Union (IPU), parliamentarians can unite in support of the targets and goals set forth in the UN Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS for orphaned and vulnerable children.
At national level, parliamentarians can:
- Use their influence to help place children and AIDS at the top of the political agenda.
- Break the silence about HIV/AIDS by addressing young people, parents, teachers, health and social workers, community members, the media, people of influence and parliamentary committees concerned with young people.
- Educate and inform on HIV/AIDS related issues.
- Prevent prejudice, discrimination and stigma, calling for understanding of the emotional, social and physical needs of young people living with HIV/AIDS and urging for compassion, support and protection; promote and strengthen family and community-based care.
- Advocate and mobilize positive action in response to HIV/AIDS.
- Create parliamentary focal point for HIV/AIDS.
- Press for HIV/AIDS legislation, national plans and budgetary allocations.
- Give top priority to protecting the people most vulnerable to HIV and people living with HIV/AIDS.
- Advocate for effective HIV/AIDS education and counselling.
- Press for the provision of strong youth-friendly and women-friendly health and social services.
Important steps have been taken to bring parliamentarians to the frontline in the fight against HIV/AIDS and its impact on children in Africa:
- A document, " What Parliamentarians can do about HIV/AIDS: Actions for Children and Young People”, was jointly developed by UNICEF, UNAIDS and AWEPA.
- The Cape Town Declaration on an Enhanced Parliamentarian Response to the Crisis of Orphans and other Children made Vulnerable by HIV/AIDS in Africa, adopted in 2004 at the African-European Consultation on Children Orphaned and Made Vulnerable by HIV/AIDS in Africa, lays out concrete actions and commitments for parliamentarians in Africa. One of these is the development of National Plans of Action for Orphaned and Vulnerable Children.
- UNICEF, USAID, UNAIDS and the World Food Programme (WFP) have been supporting governments in developing National Plans of Actions for Orphaned and Vulnerable Children.
- By March 2006, three sub–regional consultations on the parliamentarian response to HIV and children have been convened in Cape Town, with a focus on trade and poverty (May 2005); in Lilongwe with a focus on violence and conflict (September 2005) and in Nairobi with a focus on poverty reduction strategies (November 2005). The last consultation will be held in Maputo on March 2006. It will look at the challenges faced by orphaned and vulnerable children in accessing education.