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AIDS endangers motherhood, threatens the joys of childhood

International Day of Families – 15 May 2009
International AIDS Memorial Day – 17 May 2009

This Mother's Day on 10 May, UNICEF calls for commitments and actions from all sectors of society to protect women and uphold the sacredness of motherhood in a world shadowed by AIDS.

© UNICEF Malaysia/2007/Nadchatram

KUALA LUMPUR, 1 May 2009 – Mothers are special. Not only do mothers go through both the joys and difficulties of pregnancy and giving birth, she dedicates her life to nurturing and caring for her children, ensuring their spiritual, emotional and physical health and well-being.

Yet in a world with AIDS, the sacredness of motherhood is already under grave threat explains UNICEF Representative to Malaysia Mr. Youssouf Oomar.

“Some 15.5 million women are currently living with HIV – half of all adults living with the virus. Most of these women are already mothers, and between them they are raising millions more children,” highlights Mr. Youssouf who is also UNICEF’s Special Representative to Brunei. “With the epidemic taking on an increasingly feminine face, the toll will be most painfully felt by the next generation of mothers and their children.”

In Malaysia, the picture is no less grim with the narrowing gap between the rates of HIV infections among men compared to those of women.  The Ministry of Health and UNICEF 2008 Report “Women and Girls: Confronting HIV and AIDS in Malaysia” reveals that HIV infections amongst women have risen sharply, 1.2% of total new cases in 1990 to 10.8% in 2004. December 2008 data indicates the proportion of new infections amongst women as compared to men has increased and is now 19%.

Disparities beyond sexual relations

“Gender inequality is at the heart of this crisis,” asserts Mr. Youssouf. “Women are less able than men to exercise control over their bodies and lives. But these disparities go far deeper than sexual relations. When women are wholly dependent on men financially, there is a risk of exposure to abuses of power.”

Violence and the threat of it also limit women’s ability to protect themselves from HIV infection. She may risk violence if she insists on protection. She may stay in a violent relationship because she feels her children need their father. She may give in to male demands for unprotected sexual relations even when she knows the danger.

Once infected with HIV, women face a whole set of new difficulties. Frequently, women with HIV infection face challenges that may interfere with their ability to obtain or adhere to treatment. In some instances, she is also blamed for bringing HIV into the household and may end up being shunned by family members, including her husband.

Missing mothers, missing childhoods

But it is children who bear the heaviest burden when HIV intrudes into their mother’s lives. Infected mothers who are not aware of their HIV status are at risk of transmitting the virus to their children during pregnancy and childbirth. Without ante- and postnatal care, one third of children born to HIV-positive mothers will contract the virus themselves.

Even those children born before their mother is infected, and those who remain HIV-negative despite being born to a mother with the virus, are at risk as their mother’s health declines. All too often, a reversal of roles takes place, with children caring for their sick mothers, knowing that their mother may soon die.

Aside from the emotional cost, the loss of a mother is an unforgivable blow to a child’s life. “It is a tragedy when children are left motherless. A mother’s death denies her children their natural, primary caregiver and has an extremely detrimental effect on her children’s access to education and health care,” says Mr. Youssouf.  “Many children who survive without mothers also risk being emotionally lost.”

UNAIDS and UNICEF’s 2008 Stocktaking Report on Children and AIDS advocates for more to be done to provide HIV tests for pregnant women and to give them access to essential care and treatment.  The testing of mothers must be a high priority since a mother’s health directly impacts the health of her baby, and treating the mother during her pregnancy and delivery will help reduce HIV transmission to her child. While prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTCT) is an issue of prevention for infants, it is also an equally important entry point for treating HIV-positive mothers to ensure they remain well.

Keeping our promise to children

“But what is even more useful, more beneficial to families and society is to ensure that mothers and fathers remain free of HIV,” Mr Youssouf points out. “Education is our solution. Educated women are more likely to know how to prevent HIV infection, to delay sexual activity and to take measures to protect themselves. Education also accelerates behaviour change among young men, making them more receptive to prevention messages.”

“As we embrace twenty years of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, let us not forget that our promises to children must include a commitment to ensure they live lives free of HIV and its harmful effects,” says Mr. Youssouf.

Strategies for HIV prevention, treatment, and support services for women and girls must be incorporated into all national AIDS plans and budgets, and made central to all National Development Strategies. At the same time, civil society, religious communities, businesses, the media also have a role to play to challenge the social norms and values that contribute to the lower social status of women and girls and condone violence against them.

Mother's Day on 10 May, followed closely with International Day of Families on 15 May themed this year "Mothers and Families: Challenges in a Changing World" is a reminder and a challenge to each of us to stand up for women and their children.

“If we act now, we will save more girls and women from getting infected, getting sick or dying of AIDS. Only together, with a common mission and purpose, can we protect and keep our promise to children,” avows Mr. Youssouf.



ABOUT International Day of Families
The International Day of Families was established by the United Nations to celebrate families, to promote awareness of issues relating to families as basic units of society, as well as, to advocate for appropriate action in support of families. The day was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in its resolution 47/237 of 20 September 1993.  2009 is the 15th Anniversary of the International Day of Families and will be observed under the banner of "Mothers and Families: Challenges in a Changing World".

ABOUT International AIDS Memorial Day
The International AIDS Memorial Day, the largest and oldest grassroots AIDS campaign, is a unique event that promotes discussion, education and action around HIV and AIDS. From the beginning, the Memorial has served as a forum to honor the memory of those lost to AIDS, show support for those living with HIV, raise awareness of the disease and mobilise action in response to its harm. The Memorial involves all sectors of society, from civil society to governments, community-based organisations to faith-based groups as well as families, teachers, young people and most importantly, people living with HIV and AIDS. The theme for 2009 is “Together we are the solution”.

ABOUT Children and Families – UNICEF’S role
Families are children’s first line of protection. Every child has the right to know and be cared for by his or her own parents, whenever possible. Around the world, UNICEF is working with partners to build a protective environment for children that helps keep their families intact and fortifies them against abuse and exploitation, in the way that good nutrition and good health care fortifies them against diseases. UNICEF programs are guided by the Convention on the Rights of the Child. We believe that the family remains at the centre of achieving children’s rights and to help children realise their full potential.





International AIDS Memorial Day 2009

we are the solution
Sunday, 17 May 2009

Statistics: Global and Malaysia

Video - AIDS

Video Report Malaysia: Treating mothers, saving babies from HIV

Resources: HIV & AIDS


HIV and healthcare for
  pregnant woman

Early diagnosis of HIV
  in children

Empowering girls to
  beat HIV

AIDS Media Guide: Leaving no child behind

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Ministry of Health & UNICEF Report 2008

Women and Girls: Confronting HIV and AIDS in Malaysia, 2008. Read

Children and AIDS: Third Stocktaking Report, 2008

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The Malaysian Launch
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The AIDS Response


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