UNICEF says Children and AIDS to take prominent place on AIDS Conference Agenda
Durban 4 June 2007… In the country with the highest number of people infected with HIV − 5.4 million − and where approximately 13 per cent of all infections occur in children, organizers of the third South African National AIDS conference have sent strong signals that the issue of children and AIDS will occupy a prominent place in the conference deliberations.
And UNICEF, the United Nations children’s development agency, which is in the second year of championing a five-year global campaign on Children and AIDS, has been quick to respond. In partnership with child-focused non-governmental organizations, Save the Children UK and Child Welfare South Africa, UNICEF has organised two satellite sessions specifically focused on children and AIDS. In these sessions, leading South African experts will examine critical issues relating to accelerating the national response towards universal access for all children in need by 2011.
“Children should not be the face of this epidemic,” says UNICEF South Africa Country Representative Macharia Kamau, who is also Chairman of the United Nations Theme Group on HIV and AIDS.
“The majority of HIV infected pregnant women in South Africa do not have access to a single nevirapine tablet to prevent them from passing the virus to their infants. Treatment for children infected by their mothers continues to lag behind, with only one in four infected children receiving it. The horrific rate of deaths of parents tragically continues to pour even more children into the desperate ranks of orphans,” he says.
UNICEF acknowledges that the recently launched National HIV and AIDS and STI Strategic Plan, if supported with accelerated efforts to contain the impact of HIV and AIDS through public, private and civil society partnerships, could bring a bright future for millions of poor and voiceless children.
Ensuring survival of children
South Africa has made important strides in the provision of treatment to HIV infected people over the past two years and now has the fastest growing uptake and largest number of people on ARV treatment. Yet, AIDS remains the leading cause of death in women and children in the country. Improvement in child health and child survival will be dependant on the acceleration of access to HIV prevention and treatment services for both mothers and children.
UNICEF, the children’s agency, has called for redoubled efforts to expand access to life-saving services for children and their parents, and care givers, through an integrated family approach in which prevention and treatment go hand in hand to improve children’s survival. This will be the focus of the first satellite session on 5 June from 8h30 to 12h30 entitled “Solving Operational Bottlenecks to achieve the NSP targets for Children Infected and Affected by HIV and AIDS”.
Tracking and Care of Orphans and Vulnerable ChildrenUNICEF has commended the Government on its strengthened efforts to address the challenges posed by HIV and AIDS and to highlight the issues raised by concerned stakeholders which will help ensure that NSP targets are achieved.
But South Africa’s HIV and AIDS statistics continue to show a startling impact on children. The country’s population living with HIV represents 14% of the global burden and approximately 13% of all HIV infections are in children. Ten percent of orphans due to AIDS (1.5 million) live in South Africa and 0.6% of South African children live in child-headed households.
A second satellite session looking at innovative strategies for effective identification, tracking and care for orphans and vulnerable children and how to reach the marginalized and most vulnerable among them is scheduled for 7 June 2007 from 14h00 to 15h30. UNICEF says the session will discuss the evidence, programmatic experiences and challenges in mitigating HIV and AIDS impact on children and the challenges ahead towards achieving the targets of the National Strategic Plan for 2011, the National Action Plan for OVC 2005-2008 and the UNGASS Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS goals for orphans and vulnerable children.
What Does SA Need to Do to Stop Spread of HIV among Young People
Significant progress has been made over the past two years in providing access to treatment for some 300,000 adults who can now receive care from both public and private sector facilities. But, Mr Kamau observes that “South Africa is still struggling to reduce the rate of new infections in young people, and as long as prevention and treatment efforts are outpaced by the rate of infection and deaths, the children of South Africa will have a dire future.”
A third satellite session on 6 June from 14h00 to 16h00 entitled “Twenty six years of HIV prevention work: Lessons learnt and future paradigm shifts” will discuss the evidence and programmatic experiences of delivering HIV prevention services globally, and in South Africa in particular. It aims to identify context-specific interventions and strategies for accelerating scaling-up of interventions to achieve the National HIV and AIDS and STI Strategic Plan target of reducing new infections by 50 per cent by 2011. This session is sponsored by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA).
Panellists say these three sessions and the conference as a whole offer a real opportunity to build consensus on specific operational strategies to increase the coverage and improve the effectiveness of HIV and AIDS programmes in South Africa, especially those that target children.