Despite Progress, Children Remain Victims of AIDS

By Charlene Porter
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington – An estimated 12 million children are at risk in Africa, orphaned or left vulnerable and impoverished by the AIDS epidemic, according to a report issued by the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) August 14.

This latest survey of the youngest victims of the epidemic is an update of an earlier report conducted in 2003, and is compiled by UNICEF, the Joint United Nations Programme of AIDS (UNAIDS) and the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

In sub-Saharan Africa, AIDS is the leading cause of death among young adults of child-bearing age. Their deaths are leaving behind youngsters who are threatened by poverty, lacking in education and guidance, and subject to marginalization and discrimination, according to Africa's Orphaned and Vulnerable Generations: Children Affected by AIDS.

In 10 of 45 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, 15 percent or more of all children were orphans in 2005. In Zambia alone, 20 percent of all children were orphans in 2005, one half of them due to AIDS, the report says. Care of these 1.2 million youngsters falls to Zambia’s population of approximately 11 million.

Providing assistance to this vulnerable population has been a goal of PEPFAR, according to Kent Hill, assistant administrator of the Bureau for Global Health at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

"The President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief has brought intense focus to families and children living with and affected by HIV/AIDS," said Hill August 14 in Toronto where the report was released at the XVI International AIDS Conference.  "However, with the number of AIDS orphans still growing, there is much work to be done.  By strengthening critical programs at the local level, the international community can ensure that orphaned and vulnerable children receive the care, support and protection they need." 

PEPFAR is a five-year, $15 billion program providing assistance to 120 nations, with special focus on 15 target nations especially hard-hit by HIV/AIDS.

In 2006, some $217 million has been earmarked for programs to assist orphaned and vulnerable children, or 12.5 percent of the annual budget for the year. PEPFAR supported care for more than 1.2 million orphaned and vulnerable children in 2005. In a parallel effort, 75,000 adults have received training in the care of at-risk youngsters to achieve sustainable support for the 15 million children who are expected to have lost one or both parents by 2010.

The office of the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator has identified a number of priorities for services to support orphans and vulnerable children, including:

• Strengthening the capacity of families to protect and care for youngsters by prolonging the lives of ailing parents and caregivers;

• Mobilizing and supporting communities to help in therapeutic and socioeconomic assistance to needy households

•  Ensuring that vulnerable children have access to education, training, health care and other services.

Making sure that orphans are educated is viewed as a priority in the care of vulnerable children.

“One of the most effective ways to keep these children safe is to invest in education, especially for girls,” said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Rima Salah at the Toronto news conference.

The Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator has compiled a collection of case studies about the effectiveness of PEPFAR programs and how assistance has brought new promise to families suffering from loss and poverty because of HIV/AIDS. The case studies, Stories of Hope, are available on the State Department Web site, as is a fact sheet that provides a summary of PEPFAR efforts to assist children.

UNAIDS and UNICEF have launched a targeted campaign for children. More information on this effort, Unite for Children, is available on a U.N. Web site.

See Africa's Orphaned and Vulnerable Generations: Children Affected by AIDS.

For ongoing coverage, see HIV/AIDS.