Peter McDermott, Opening Session: Global Situation and Response for Children Affected by HIV/AIDS

Unite for Children, Unite Against AIDS.

The Technical Consultation on Children Affected by HIV AIDS bought together around 100 representatives of civil society, governments, bilateral and multilateral donors, UN agencies and academics. This was the first time that the Global Partners Forum on Children Affected by HIV and AIDS was preceded by a 'Technical Consultation' that provided an opportunity for discussions on the key actions required to eliminate barriers to scaling up effective services for children affected by HIV and AIDS.

Recommendations from the Technical Consultation were to be presented at the Global Partners Forum, 9-10 February, 2006.

Peter McDermott, chief, HIV/AIDS section, UNICEF speaking on the global situation and the response to children affected by HIV and AIDS, said that though children and AIDS have become the subject of growing local, national and international attention over recent years, significant momentum is needed to make a real difference. While there has been a paradigm shift, children are still missing from the global response.

There were 700,000 new HIV infections among children in 2005 and 2.3 million children are estimated to be living with HIV as of the end of the year. 15 million children have so far been orphaned by AIDS, but the worst is yet to come - the number of orphans will rise even after the number of adults infected stagnates or declines.

Children are affected by HIV/AIDS for many reasons, but the majority of children affected by AIDS are made vulnerable because the adults around them are sick, dying or have recently died. Orphans are not always the most vulnerable, though they are often at higher risk of becoming infected themselves and are less likely to receive a proper education.

Peter Mc Dermott explained the global campaign 'Unite for Children, Unite Against AIDS', which aims to unite the efforts of all those fighting AIDS to meet children's needs in four key areas. This provides a child-focused framework for nationally owned programmes around the 'Four Ps' - urgent imperatives that will make a real difference in the lives and life chances of children affected by AIDS. These are:

    * Prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV
    * Provide paediatric treatment
    * Prevent infection among adolescents and young people
    * Protect and support children affected by HIV/AIDS

To prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV, the campaign seeks to expand services to 80 percent of women in need by 2010, up from the current 10 percent.

By providing pediatric drug treatment, the campaign seeks to cut in half the number of children who are infected at birth and die each year before reaching the age of one year -currently about 500,000. The target is to provide either antiretroviral treatment or cotrimoxazole, or both to 80 percent of the children in need by 2010.

By preventing new infections among adolescents and young people, the campaign hopes to reduce by 25 percent the number of children between the ages of 4 and 15 infected annually by 2010.

The 'Unite for Children, Unite against AIDS' campaign advocates for improved birth and death registration systems - at present it is often difficult for children and extended family members to obtain official records proving that they are orphans, which can make them ineligible for such benefits as food aid or free medical care.

The campaign also advocates for education and health services to be strengthened, and for governments and agencies to work towards the elimination of user fees for primary education and, where appropriate health-care services. Thus, the campaign provides a platform for continued action and advocacy to promote the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other international conventions.

The global momentum to fight HIV/AIDS now includes the US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and the World Bank Multi-Country HIV/AIDS Program for Africa, as well as a significant increase in responses from civil society and faith-based organisations. Coordinating the contributions of all these actors is a daunting but essential task. But unless it is successful, there is a danger that isolated interventions will lead to the proliferation of small projects that are not linked to wider and longer-term programmatic, sectoral or national interventions.

The number of international contributions to the fight against HIV/AIDS often strains the capacity of national coordinating bodies, leaves gaps in national responses and increases the risk of duplication. The Unite for Children, Unite against AIDS Campaign provides a platform for all agencies involved in halting and reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS among children, adolescents and young people. It helps ensure that the children's face of HIV/AIDS is represented at every level of the 'Three Ones'.

Ishdeep Kohli-CNS