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At a glance: United States of America

Meeting of the Joint Learning Initiative on Children and HIV/AIDS held in New York

© UNICEF 2009
Participants in the Joint Learning Initiative on Children and HIV/AIDS (JLICA) discuss their recommendations during a technical meeting with UNICEF and partners at UNICEF House in New York.

By Rod Huntress

NEW YORK, USA, 8 June 2009 - For an impoverished mother in a developing country whose child is infected with HIV, something as simple as finding the money for regular taxi trips to a clinic for treatment can be daunting.

But if her income source is cut off – through the loss of a job, or a family member’s illness – what was previously a challenge threatens to become an outright medical emergency for the child.  Suddenly, there’s a choice to be made: between buying essentials such as the family’s food, or paying for life-sustaining visits to the clinic.

Social protection, a comprehensive approach to supporting and protecting the world’s most vulnerable, is designed to ensure that poor families and their children are not forced to confront impossible choices like this one.   

Gathering experts

Starting in 2006, the Joint Learning Initiative on Children and HIV/AIDS (JLICA) has gathered dozens of experts to examine research on social protection and recommend ways to make this approach even more effective. Participants in the initiative met at UNICEF headquarters in New York on 2-3 June to discuss JLICA’s recommendations, and their benefits for children affected by HIV.

Social protection weaves together an array of systems – transfers of cash from governments to families, insurance, health care and other services, as well as policies and legislation into a comprehensive safety net.  But children are both more vulnerable and more dependent than adults, and need special child-sensitive social protection measures that take their situation into account.

© UNICEF 2009
(L to R) Jimmy Kolker, UNICEF Chief of HIV/AIDS, Programme Division, and Masuma Mamdami, co-chair of a JLICA learning group on social and economic policies, attending the JLICA meeting at UNICEF House.

At their most basic, those measures can include cash transfers to pay for a child’s health care or education.  At their most sophisticated, they encompass policies and legislation which support child rights, security and access to resources.  UNICEF collaborates with governments to develop effective strategies for child-sensitive social protection.

The first call for help: families

One of JLICA’s recommendations is: 'Strengthen children through families'.

 “In all situations where people are living under difficult conditions and under emergencies, families are the first call for help,” says co-chair of a JLICA group specializing in strengthening families, Linda Richter.  “And they are the people who respond immediately.”
Once HIV affects a poor family, simple choices can have profound consequences.  “If you're living very close to the breadline,” says Richter, “one of the impacts of HIV and AIDS immediately on the family is to impoverish it.  Families will cut back their non-regular expenditure.  Given that the poorest families are spending close to 60 to 70 per cent on food, that means food is the first thing to be cut back on.”

The timing is critical

One of UNICEF’s goals for the upcoming G8 meeting in Italy this July, and September’s G20 summit in New York, is to build on an existing international commitment to social protection.  UNICEF is working to consolidate that commitment at this year’s summits, while ensuring that it includes measures aimed specifically at supporting  children.

© UNICEF 2009
Lydia Mungherera, co-chair of a JLICA learning group on expanding access to services and protecting human rights, addresses the meeting at UNICEF House in New York.

The timing is critical.  The global economic crisis threatens to raise pressure on countries to cut funding for programmes benefiting children affected by HIV.  Children have a right to the highest standard of health – but there’s another argument for maintaining support as well.

“Social protection is, in many ways, an investment in the future of a country, and we should know that the last thing you want to cut back on is investments in times of difficulty,” says research associate at Harvard’s FXB Center for Health and Human Rights and JLICA participant, Chris Desmond.  “We’re protecting the assets of our society. We need those people if we’re going to respond to this crisis, or any other crisis.”




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