Industrialized Nations ‘Fail’ to Show Leadership in AIDS Fight, UNICEF’s ‘State of the World’s Children 2002’ Report Says
HIV/AIDS is one of the "cruellest political and social problems in the world," particularly for children, UNICEF reports in its "State of the World's Children 2002," released Sept. 13 in preparation for the U.N. General Assembly Special Session on Children. The assembly, originally scheduled for Sept. 19-21, has been postponed because of the recent terrorist attacks on New York City and the Pentagon. HIV/AIDS is "destroying families, communities and nations," causing life expectancy to "plumme[t]" while AIDS orphans "overwhelm family networks, social services and health care institutions," the report states. One of the goals set forth at the 1990 World Summit for Children was to "improve protection of children in especially difficult circumstances," including children affected by HIV/AIDS. According to the report, the impact of the disease is "crushing the attempts of countries all over the world to put human development and the rights of women and children first," especially in Southern and Eastern Africa. The poverty of the regions has exacerbated the epidemic, illustrating that AIDS is the "most savage index of the inequality of our world," the report states. Projected child mortality rates for 2000-2005 in Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa are equal to or greater than 50%, and the southern and eastern regions of the continent had 6,400,000 AIDS orphans as of last year.
Industrialized nations have "markedly failed to show the requisite global leadership" on HIV/AIDS-related issues, responding with complacency once the epidemic had been contained within their own nations, the report states. However, HIV/AIDS has begun to receive global attention, first with the U.N. Security Council recognizing in January 2000 that the disease poses a threat to worldwide security and then with the U.N. General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS in June, which produced targets for worldwide HIV prevention and established the Global AIDS and Health Fund to fight the disease. Leadership in the most affected nations has also been "markedly varied," the report states. Successful initiatives in Uganda have lowered the HIV infection rate from 30% of adults in 1990 to 10% today, and in Botswana, officials have begun to implement a national program to reduce vertical transmission. Thailand, Venezuela and Brazil have also successfully implemented programs to reduce HIV transmission. However, other nations have "pursue[d] an ostrich-like approach, taking no account of the rising tide of infection" until the numbers were overwhelming, the report states. Corporations have also begun to take initiative, according to the report. The Coca-Cola Co. recently said it will use its distribution network to distribute condoms, HIV testing kits and educational materials to remote areas. The company is part of the Global Business Council on HIV and AIDS, to which companies like AOL Time Warner, MAC Cosmetics and Unilever also belong. Drug companies have also begun to offer steep discounts to developing nations, the report notes, citing Bristol-Myers Squibb's offer to sell its medicines didanosine and stavudine for $1 a day to African nations and Pfizer's donation of fluconazole to the least developed nations. Pfizer is also spending $11 million on a medical training center for doctors treating HIV/AIDS patients in Uganda.
Children's Perceptions of HIV/AIDS
The report also includes a survey on children's knowledge and perceptions of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Fifteen percent of 14- to 17-year-olds in East Asia and the Pacific region said they knew "a lot" about HIV/AIDS, while more than half of those surveyed in the Baltic states and 40% of those polled in Western Europe said they had "very little or no information" about the disease. In addition, a third of those surveyed in the Caribbean said they felt "uninformed" about HIV/AIDS, sex and illegal drug use. Myths about HIV transmission also persist. Twenty percent of respondents in Panama, Ecuador and Guatemala thought that HIV could be contracted by being near an infected person and 4% said that the virus could be transmitted by touching an infected person. Similarly, 10% of respondents in Thailand believed touching could infect a person. The report also includes a feature page describing an AIDS prevention program for children in Malawi, as well as quotes from children around the world on their perceptions of the epidemic ("State of the World's Children 2002," 9/13). The entire report is available online on the UNICEF Web site.