African Leaders, HIV/AIDS Activists Gather To Coordinate Effort To Fight ‘Growing Crisis’ of African AIDS Orphans
More than 35 African leaders, public health experts and HIV/AIDS activists gathered yesterday in Johannesburg, South Africa, at the start of a two-day conference focused on the "growing crisis" of African AIDS orphans, Reuters Health reports. Former South African President Nelson Mandela convened the conference, titled the "African Leadership Consultation: Acting for Children on the Brink" and cosponsored by UNICEF and UNAIDS, in order to "demand a coordinated response" to the many children in Africa who have lost one or both parents to AIDS-related illnesses. Conference participants agreed to launch a "continent-wide campaign" to ensure that such children have access to school and basic health care, to involve religious leaders in efforts to educate the public and reduce the stigma surrounding AIDS orphans, to "deman[d]" that all African governments address the needs of AIDS orphans and to redirect a larger percentage of U.N. funding for HIV/AIDS specifically to assist AIDS orphans (Mozes, Reuters Health, 9/10).
Turning Commitment Into Action
The meeting was the first to focus entirely on AIDS orphans, a population that has previously been "ignored," according to conference participants. "We have actually done very, very little [for AIDS orphans]," Joy Phumaphi, health minister of Botswana, said, adding, "We have a moral obligation to commit ourselves to this imperative" (Nessman, Associated Press, 9/10). Mandela said that AIDS orphans "are affected by actions over which they had no control and in which they had no part," adding, "It is that cruel reality that keeps one awake at night when pondering all the aspects and implications of the [HIV/AIDS] pandemic" (Agence France-Presse, 9/10). Stephen Lewis, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special envoy on HIV/AIDS in Africa, said the conference was "unlike any U.N. meeting" he had ever attended, adding, "It was a concrete, no-nonsense, morning to night, disciplined discussion ... designed to focus single-mindedly on orphans and vulnerable children -- because in the mind of many they are the one aspect of the [HIV/AIDS] epidemic that has been most neglected" (Reuters Health, 9/10). Conference participants appointed from among themselves a task force that has been charged with carrying out the conference resolutions (South African Press Association, 9/10). Lewis said, "I think the commitments made at this meeting may turn out to be the kind of breakthrough which has eluded us for so long." According to Lewis, more than 11 million children under age 15 worldwide have lost one or both parents to AIDS-related causes, and the number of AIDS orphans is likely to reach 20 million by 2010 (Reuters Health, 9/10).