The missing face of AIDS: UNICEF and UNAIDS launch 'Unite for Children, Unite against AIDS' in Nigeria
Abuja, 8 November 2005 – UNICEF, the UN Theme group on HIV-AIDS and the Federal Government of Nigeria today launched in Abuja the Unite for Children, Unite Against AIDS campaign. The campaign is focusing on the enormous impact of HIV/AIDS on children and aims at changing the commonly held belief that AIDS is mainly a problem for adults. Children affected by the disease are the “missing face” of AIDS – missing not only from policy discussions on HIV/AIDS, but also lacking access to even the most basic care and prevention services. The global campaign - Unite for Children, Unite Against AIDS - was launched in New-York on October 25 by the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, UNICEF Executive Director Ann Veneman and UN AIDS Executive Director, Peter Piot.
With more than 3.5 million people living with HIV, Nigeria today ranks third in the world after India and South Africa. Among the most affected are children and young people. In some regions of the country, there is an alarmingly high prevalence rate in the 15 – 19 year group. Mother-to-Child transmission (MTCT) of HIV is a major and increasing cause of infant and childhood morbidity and mortality in Sub-Saharan Africa. In Nigeria, it is estimated that 90% of the infections occurring in children under the age of 15 years are acquired from infected mothers. Yet, less than 1% of pregnant HIV-positive women receive antiretroviral drugs to prevent the spread of HIV to their babies in Nigeria.
Launching the Campaign at the UN House in Abuja, the UNICEF Representative noted: “Everyday, 1,000 Nigerians will contract HIV and another 800 will die of AIDS and related illnesses. A significant percentage of these are children. Children should not watch their parents or loved ones suffer and die. Today in Nigeria 1,8 million children are orphaned by HIV-AIDS. Too many children are missing out on their childhood, parenting, home, education, medical care, protection because of HIV-AIDS. Significant progress is being made in fighting the pandemic, but not enough attention has been given to children’s plight.”
Globally, although most people living with HIV are adults, children under five account for one in six global AIDS-related deaths. With a 5% prevalence rate, and Nigeria’s high fertility rate, an increasing number of children are becoming infected by their mothers at birth. Currently, according to UN AIDS, about 40,000 people living with HIV-AIDS are on ART in Nigeria (as of June 2005), almost all of them being adults.
Two decades into the pandemic there are limited advances in paediatric treatment. It is only very recently that a national paediatric ARV programme is starting with the support of the Federal Government of Nigeria in collaboration with international development partners and other stakeholders. The drugs for this programme have been procured and are already being distributed to the various centers where the capacity to provide this service has already being built.
The global campaign aims to achieve measurable progress for children based on internationally agreed goals in four key result areas:
To achieve these targets, commitments from all sectors of society is needed: Government officials, opinion leaders, legislators, Civil Society Organizations, religious and traditional leaders and the media. The participation of children and young people is also crucial.
According to UNAIDS, $55 billion will be needed globally over the next three years to confront the AIDS pandemic. Not only does AIDS funding need to increase dramatically, but a significant portion should be specifically targeted for children affected by the disease.
Private Sector Enterprises can play a key role in establishing policies for children and families of their employees and providing financial support for community-based initiatives for the care and support of affected children and families. In Nigeria, the MTN foundation is joining the campaign in sending an awareness message to all 9 million MTN subscribers on Wednesday 9 November.
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