By the end of 1998, 33.4 million people world-wide were living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, a 10% increase over just a year before. According to UNAIDS/World Health Organisation estimates, 11 men, women, and children around the world were infected per minute during 1998, or 16,000 a day and close to six million people in all. Almost half the new infections were in young people aged 15-24 years, and the epidemic is increasingly affecting women, young people and children, one tenth of them were under age 15.
In 1998,43% of all people over 15 living with HIV/AIDS were women, up from 41% the previous year. Some 1.2 million children are living with HIV and 90% are believed to have acquired the infection from mother-to-child transmission, before or at birth, or through breastfeeding. Infant and under-five mortality is expected to increase exponentially in the worst affected countries over the next years.
The HIV/AIDS epidemic has had a major impact on the rights and well-being of children.
Over the past 13 years, UNICEF has, therefore, made HIV/AIDS programming a priority throughout the agency. At the global level, UNICEF works in partnership with other UN organisations through UNAIDS, as well as with donor agencies, NGOs and private organisations to advocate for children, youth and women. Regional programmes address common problems, co-ordinate multi-country efforts and encourage sharing of regional expertise. In 160 countries, UNICEF offices are supporting HIV/AIDS programmes in partnership with national, provincial and local governments, NGOs, community groups and other UNAIDS co-sponsors, to increase the effectiveness of prevention and care and to tackle the underlying causes of vulnerability to HIV/AIDS. Within UNAIDS, UNICEF is the chief advocate for children and their families and focuses its efforts on areas where it has demonstrated programmatic strengths and comparative advantage, including:
Prevention of Mother-to-Child transmissionUNICEF action to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT) includes participation in the Inter-Agency Task Force on Prevention of MTCT, providing support for a series of pilot projects, and advising governments on the development and implementation of country strategies. UNICEF is identifying ways to ensure that HIV-infected women in developing countries have access to voluntary and confidential HIV counselling and testing and to interventions-antiretroviral drugs and counselling on feeding alternatives.
Youth Health and Development
Programming focuses on increasing youth participation in decision making, promoting their rights and access to appropriate information and services, and creating supportive environments to reduce youth risk and vulnerability to HIV/AIDS. A critical component of this area of programming is protecting children and young people from sexual exploitation and abuse, with special focus on young girls. Children and Families affected by HIV/AIDSA UNICEF priority is to identify approaches that enable AIDS orphans to remain within the community, especially approaches that strengthen families' capacity to cope and alternative models of care.
Particular emphasis is given to monitoring the impact of HIV/AIDS on children, identifying vulnerable children and improving orphan registration schemes, ensuring that children and families have access to essential health and social services and co-ordinating the efforts of local organisations to provide practical support to children affected by AIDS and orphans.
AIDS EducationUNICEF programmes emphasise improving young people's knowledge and skills to enable them to adopt safe behaviours and make healthy life choices. UNICEF has supported the development of life skills and health education curricula, training of teachers and the production of materials. UNICEF is also promoting the rights of children with HIV/AIDS, children from families affected by HIV/AIDS, and pregnant schoolgirls to remain in school and to a safe, non-discriminatory school environment Gender and HIV/AIDS It becomes increasingly important to understand the socio-culturally constructed gender roles of men and women in order to combat the causes and consequences of HIV/AIDS. UNICEF is using a gender mainstreaming approach to approach the issues linked to HIV/AIDS.
UNICEF considers communication to be a critical tool for strengthening HIV/AIDS prevention and care, tackling stigma and discrimination, and addressing the social and cultural norms that influence sexual behaviours. Communication programming includes policy dialogue at global and national levels, to "break the conspiracy of silence," emphasise the concerns of children, youth and women, and promote the rights of children and young people. UNICEF is also strengthening the effectiveness of national and community communication activities through technical assistance to develop audience research and impact evaluation methods, training, and promoting networking between health and communication organisations. Workplace Initiatives with Staff In response to the impact of the HIV/AIDS epidemic on UNICEF staff and their families, UNICEF is reviewing current policies and developing strategies to improve support and services for staff and their dependants. The UNAIDS Partnership.
The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) launched in January 1996, is co-sponsored by seven United Nations organisations, UNICEF, UNDP, UNFPA, UNDCP, UNESCO, WHO, and the World Bank. UNAIDS, which comprises a Geneva-based secretariat and the seven co-sponsors, works closely with governments, civil society, other international organisations, communities and people living with AIDS.
As the main advocate for global action on HIV/AIDS, UNAIDS' mission is to lead, strengthen and support an expanded response to the epidemic, which aims to: