How does the epidemic affect children and young people?

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© UNICEF/ HQ05-2094/Cranston
A boy raises his arms in victory during a football match on an airstrip in Southern Sudan. He is wearing a T-shirt that bears the logo and the slogan “Fight for life. Fight HIV/AIDS”.

The face of HIV and AIDS is increasingly young. For every person living with AIDS, a family and a community is affected. As the disease kills parents and caregivers, it fuels poverty and despair among children and adolescents and stretches family resources.

The impact of HIV and AIDS on children is seen most dramatically in the rising numbers of children and adolescents orphaned by AIDS. Such children face grave risks to their education, health, and well-being: They may have to forgo schooling; there may be less food or clothing for them in the household; they may suffer from anxiety, depression and abuse.

But children orphaned by AIDS are not the only children affected by the epidemic. Many more children live with parents who are chronically ill, live in households that have taken in orphans or have lost teachers and other adult members of the community to AIDS. Almost as lethal as the virus itself is the stigma and resulting discrimination faced by people living with, or affected by, HIV. Because of the ignorance and denial that cloak the disease in many parts of the world, children whose parents have died from AIDS are often singled out for abuse in places they come to for support and care – harshly treated in foster homes, denied access to schooling and health care, stripped of their inheritances, and left to the streets. Stigma and discrimination remain the most potent barrier to testing, treatment and prevention. This explains in part why, in some countries, up to 90 per cent of people who are HIV-positive don’t know their status.


 

 

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Facts and Figures

As of December 2007, children under 15 accounted for 290,000 deaths worldwide and 420,000 children were newly infected with HIV – the vast majority through mother-to-child transmission of the virus.