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In East Asia and the Pacific, face of AIDS is becoming younger: Global campaign calls for spotlight on children in fight against HIV/AIDS

Anupama Rao Singh at the launch of AIDS campaign
UNICEF Regional Director for East Asia and the Pacific, Anupama Rao Singh, speaking at the press conference to launch UNITE FOR CHILDREN UNITE AGAINST AIDS in Bangkok

BANGKOK, 25 October 2005

Children are increasingly bearing the brunt of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in East Asia and the Pacific with devastating consequences, UNICEF and UNAIDS warned today, at the launch of a major campaign to put children at the centre of the AIDS agenda.

With a growing number of children in the region infected and affected by HIV/AIDS, the two organizations urgently called for the most vulnerable and least protected generation to be put on the world’s radar screen.

“The face of HIV/AIDS in East Asia and Pacific is becoming younger. Not only are children dying, their lives are being damaged in so many ways,” UNICEF East Asia and Pacific Regional Director Anupama Rao Singh said.

The “Unite for Children, Unite for AIDS” global campaign is designed to alert the world to the reality that HIV/AIDS is robbing tens of millions of children of their childhood and threatening their future prospects. Because of HIV/AIDS, children and young people are missing out on education, medical care and support, while suffering great emotional pain.

“Prevention is the key to halting a potentially disastrous epidemic among children and young people in East Asia and the Pacific,” Rao Singh said. “But we must also do much more to help children who are already infected with HIV or are suffering from its impact, and that also means stamping out stigma, on which HIV/AIDS thrives.”

Studies indicate that children and young people in the region have limited understanding of how the virus is transmitted and what they can do to protect themselves. In a survey of students in rural schools in China, over half of the students believed that they could prevent HIV by exercising. Further, countries that do have prevention programmes in place, are not reaching a critical mass of those young people, who are most vulnerable to HIV infection.

"Young people play a vital role in building sustainable HIV prevention efforts; for themselves, their peers and as a role model for younger children. Educators, civil society and governments throughout the region must continue to engage the voice of youth in the long-term fight against AIDS," said Bai Bagasao, Manager, Asia Pacific Leadership Forum at UNAIDS Asia Pacific regional office.

By 2004, an estimated 120,700 children were living with HIV/AIDS in the Asia and Pacific region. Some were infected at birth, others were infected through injecting drug use or unsafe sex. In Thailand, 50-60 per cent of new infections each year are among children and young people under 24 years of age. In Viet Nam, 63 per cent of the people infected are under 30.

An estimated 1.5 million children in Asia and the Pacific have lost one or both parents to AIDS, with many more millions of children affected. The region’s social welfare systems are not strong enough to accommodate the current number of orphans, let alone a projected rise in the number of children orphaned by AIDS. Further, these children become far more vulnerable to trafficking, commercial sexual exploitation and substance use.

Few children infected with HIV are actually receiving life-prolonging medicines. In Asia and the Pacific, 34,500 children needed antiretroviral treatment (ART) in 2004 yet less than one per cent of these children were receiving it. And only a small number of children currently receive Cotrimaxozole, a powerful antibiotic, which nearly halves child deaths from HIV/AIDS and costs just a few cents a day.

The global campaign being launched by UNICEF and UNAIDS, with partners from many different sectors, aims to drastically reduce new infections among children and young people, scale up services to prevent mother-to-child transmission, make paediatric drugs available, and provide care, support and protection for children affected by HIV/AIDS.

The initiative has specific targets for each of these areas, which are in line with the Millennium Development Goals and other recent global commitments on AIDS. By 2010, the aim is to:

  • reach 80 per cent of women in need with services to prevent HIV transmission to their babies
  • provide 80 per cent of children in need with paediatric AIDS drugs and/or infection-fighting antibiotics;
  • reduce the per cent of young people living with HIV by 25 per cent globally;
  • reach 80 per cent of children orphaned and made vulnerable by AIDS in need of support and protection

Success in all of these areas in East Asia and the Pacific, the region with one of the fastest-growing epidemics, is contingent upon ending the stigma and discrimination surrounding HIV/AIDS.

“At the end of this decade, we would like to look back and say that this was a turning point for children and AIDS, a catalyst for an unprecedented shift in awareness and action,” UNICEF’s Rao Singh said.

“Simply put, AIDS is wreaking havoc on childhood,” UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said in New York at the global launch of the campaign with UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman and UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot.

For further information, please contact:

Madeline Eisner: UNICEF EAPRO, +66 2 356 9406 or +66 1 701 4626,
Shantha Bloemen: UNICEF EAPRO, +66 2 356 9407 or +66 1 906 0813,
Tani Ruiz: UNICEF EAPRO, +66 2 356 9409 or +66 4 758 0894,
Jeanne Hallacy: UNAIDS Bangkok +66 6 003 2316 or +662 255 6800,



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