Children and HIV and AIDS

What is the relationship between HIV and AIDS and emergencies?

© UNICEF/ HQ05-0891/Noorani
A patchwork quilt uses visual imagery to raise awareness about child sexual abuse and HIV/AIDS in Haiti.

The relationship between HIV and emergencies is complex. Emergencies aggravate the condition of children made vulnerable by AIDS, including orphans, HIV-infected children, and child-headed households. Displaced people and refugee children confront completely new social and livelihood scenarios with notable vulnerability, a circumstance that facilitates HIV transmission and aggravates AIDS impact on well-being. Emergency situations  deprive children of education opportunities, including the opportunity to learn about the epidemic and basic health services.

Children in situations of armed conflicts, and displaced, migrant and refugee children are particularly vulnerable to all forms of sexual exploitation. Vulnerability to HIV infection may be increased due to the loss of livelihoods and the disruption of supportive and protective family and social networks and institutions, forcing women and girls into transactional sex for money, food or protection. Since most displaced people leave home with very few possessions, food, shelter, water, medicine, money and protection assume critical importance. Recent evidence from South Africa - a country affected by chronic drought and floods - suggests that - food insufficiency is an important risk factor for increased sexual risk-taking among women in this country (food insufficiency was not associated with sexual risk taking in men).

Significant disruption of essential services and infrastructure – both personnel and physical infrastructure – is common, especially in countries that have been affected by long-lasting conflicts. Mozambique, Rwanda and the North of Uganda are clear examples of this.  During an armed conflict, hospitals often lack the means to screen their blood supplies and sometimes must recycle needles and gloves that have come in contact with blood, which greatly increases the risk of infection.

Other emergency-related circumstances have been suggested to possibly reduce risks of transmission of HIV include the isolation and inaccessibility of some emergency-affected populations, reduced mobility during both acute emergencies and protracted conflict, and, especially in some post-emergency settings, the availability of better protection and HIV-related services than in those populations not directly affected.

Furthermore, HIV transmission may well be accelerated in post-emergency, recovery and reconstruction periods, as a result of improved accessibility and transport, and increased mobility, including between rural and urban areas (as seems to have been the case for Mozambique). HIV cannot be cured, but it can be treated and its transmission can be halted. Preventing new infections is the key to ultimately defeating AIDS.

Efforts to develop a comprehensive policy on the epidemic in emergencies are relatively new and ongoing. The Guidelines for HIV and AIDS Interventions in Emergency Settings, developed in 2003, by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Task Force on HIV in emergency settings, represent the reference document for addressing the needs of people living in emergency situations. The Guidelines provide recommendations over a broad range of programming areas including prevention, basic care, protection of those affected, and workplace programmes for humanitarian workers, for the different response stages: emergency preparedness, minimum and comprehensive response.



Inter-Agency Standing Committee Task Force on HIV in emergency settings

The Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) issued Guidelines for HIV/AIDS interventions in Emergency Settings to help individuals and organizations in their efforts to address the special needs of HIV-infected and HIV-affected people living in emergency situations.

What are emergencies?

UNICEF has always worked in emergencies, both natural and man-made. Read UNICEF’s Core Corporate Commitments to Children in Emergencies for more information.

New enhanced search