Children and AIDS
South Africa has an exceptionally severe epidemic of HIV and AIDS. One in six adults and children infected with HIV globally lives in South Africa. Close to half of the estimated three million orphans in the country have lost their parents to HIV/AIDS-related diseases.
AIDS is the leading cause of death in children and women. A third of all deaths of children under the age of five is caused by HIV/AIDS-related illnesses. Close to 30 per cent of pregnant women attending antenatal care are HIV-positive.
Most children acquire HIV from their mothers during pregnancy, birth or through breastfeeding, and, without care and treatment, most of these babies will die in the first two years of life. Many die at home before they have been properly diagnosed and treated.
The Department of Health, UNICEF and other partners are working on a comprehensive approach to protecting children from HIV and prolonging their lives. This means providing a complete package of services in the community, linked to health clinics. The package includes HIV testing for pregnant women, antiretroviral drugs to reduce mother-to-child transmission, early diagnosis of HIV infection in babies, and early treatment, counselling and support for women and children who are infected.
As a response to the global call to end new HIV infections in children by 2015, South Africa has developed an operational plan to integrate mother and child healthcare and PMTCT programmes in the country with support from UNICEF. The Action Framework for the Elimination of Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV has clear baseline indicators, targets and a user-friendly monitoring system. It is also linked to the new National Strategic Plan for HIV/AIDS, STI and TB for 2012–2016.