Thai HIV/AIDS Programs Overlook Children, UNICEF Official Says
Thailand's HIV/AIDS prevention and support programs have overlooked the needs of children living with or affected by the virus, Scott Barber, chief of UNICEF's HIV Section in the country's capital of Bangkok, said recently, IRIN News reports.
According to a recent UNICEF report, it is estimated that about 50,000 children under age 15 in East Asia and the Pacific are affected by HIV/AIDS. About 10,000 HIV-positive children in the region were receiving antiretroviral drugs in 2006, a 40% increase from 2005. "Just providing (antiretroviral drugs) is not enough," Barber said, adding that antiretrovirals are "only effective if children take them, and this depends on social support, and the reduction of stigma and discrimination."
Thailand in 2007 endorsed a call made by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in 2006 to put children at the center of HIV/AIDS strategies in the region, IRIN News reports. Several countries in the region have since implemented national strategies aimed at reducing mother-to-child HIV transmission and addressing the virus among children.
MTCT in Thailand has decreased in recent years, with 80% of HIV-positive pregnant women in the country receiving antiretrovirals. Fiji and Malaysia also have had success in reducing MTCT, according to UNICEF. However, in some developing countries in the region, only 30% of pregnant HIV-positive women receive treatment, IRIN News reports.
Chutima Salsaengjan -- a social worker with the Thai nongovernmental organization We Understand Group, which organizes art and drama programs for children living with HIV/AIDS -- said it is "important to treat [HIV] but also important to help children cope" with the virus. "For children, small things can make a big difference," she said (IRIN News, 4/23).