HIV/AIDS and Children
Vulnerable Boys, Girls and Young People, affected and orphaned as a result of HIV/AIDS
The National Situation
HIV/AIDS is one of the threats to physical, intellectual and social development that is faced by children in the Dominican Republic. Most of the children who are affected were infected by HIV as a result of virus transmission during pregnancy, childbirth or through breast milk. However, as well as the consequences of the infection itself, children whose fathers and/or mothers live with the HIV virus suffer the effects of their families being stigmatised and discriminated against, as well as the effects of economic deterioration. And even worse, they suffer the effects of the death of their parents.
The plain fact that HIV/AIDS is also affecting children, as reflected in the statistical data, has led UNICEF to join forces with UNAIDS to develop a worldwide campaign within the context of the Millennium Development Goals, with the clear purpose of changing the lives of children who are infected and/or affected by HIV/AIDS.
According to statistical data from the Presidential AIDS Council (COPRESIDA), the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Dominican Republic has undergone a process of transition from being concentrated within specific groups to the entire population of the country. It is estimated that the prevalence of HIV infection in the 15 to 49 age group (or the proportion of people suffering from the disease in relation to the total population surveyed) is 1.1%, which implies that around 46,500 people are living with the virus.
At the end of 2003, the number of boys, girls and young people under the age of 14 living with HIV/AIDS was estimated at 2,200. Of this total, the largest number of children is concentrated in the 0 – 7 age group.
According to data from the Sexually Transmitted Infection and AIDS Control Board (DIGECITSS), in December 2005 only 207 children between the ages of 0 and 14 were receiving antiretroviral treatment.
According to research carried out by the Promundo Institute, it is estimated that 57,000 children and adolescents are vulnerable, meaning that their fathers or mothers are infected with, are suffering from, or have died of HIV/AIDS.(Source: Báez, Clara; Díaz, Felicia/ Santo Domingo: PROINFANCIA; UNICEF: Children and Adolecsents at Risk due to HIV/AIDS, 2004)
UNICEF has been providing technical support together with the National Health Institute (INSALUD) for COPRESIDA and the National Children’s Council (CONANI), with involvement from key social actors, to draw up a National Policy for Protection of Children and Adolescents who have been orphaned or are vulnerable as a result of HIV/AIDS in the Dominican Republic.
Epidemiological data about young people reveal that 18% of AIDS cases in the country occur in 15 to 24 year olds, with the possibility that some may have contracted HIV at an even younger age. Among this young population group, almost half (48%) are female, double the percentage found in the adult population.
Analysis of these figures confirms that women are more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS, especially young women, due to socio-cultural customs determined by their gender status, which results in young women protecting themselves less compared to young men. Only 10.6% of young women between the ages of 15 and 19 had used a condom with any partner, in contrast with 46.9% of young men. Likewise, most young men and women do not have information about Sexually Transmitted Infections.
(Source: Health and Demographic Survey (ENDESA)/ Santo Domingo: Centre for Social and Demographic Studies, 2002)
UNICEF supported the process of designing a communications campaign to promote delaying young people’s sexual initiation age, aimed at boys, girls and young people between the ages of 10 and 14 with the slogan “Sex is not a game” and at fathers, mothers and guardians with the slogan “Talk about sex with your children – silence is worse”. A prevalence rate of HIV that is above the national average (1.7%) and which was detected in surveys of pregnant women (2.4%), is consistent with the evidence for vertical HIV transmission in boys and girls, during pregnancy, birth, or through breast milk.
UNICEF supports the Sexually Transmitted Infection and AIDS Control Board (DIGECITSS) and other civil society groups such as the Dominican Network for People who live with HIV/AIDS (REDOVIH), Hope International, and Associated Facilitators, in the implementation of the Vertical Transmission Reduction Programme under way in 89 of the country’s hospitals.
The projects that UNICEF is supporting through these partners are aimed at training health personnel, forming support groups for people who live with HIV/AIDS, strengthening community networks and producing educational materials. Mothers who live with HIV/AIDS are also receiving support in the shape of micro-credit, as part of an agreement with Hope International.
Another population group that is suffering the effects of the HIV/AIDS epidemic is made up of inhabitants of bateyes, impoverished cane cutter settlements in what was formerly the Dominican Republic’s sugar industry. Data from the ENDESA 2002 survey reveal a HIV/AIDS prevalence rate that is 5% above the national average, which combined with the limited availability of services, means that Batey dwellers are being given high priority in the national response. With the aim of developing an integrated action strategy for this population group, UNICEF is providing support for an alliance of organisations that work in the bateyes so that they can collect information, create a database, and map the services available to children in bateyes.