Efforts To Fight HIV/AIDS Not Reaching Enough Children, Health Workers at Conference Say
Despite significant funding for HIV/AIDS treatment in the developing world and efforts to prevent mother-to-child transmission, the global response to the disease has "short-changed" children, health workers at the XVII International AIDS Conference in Mexico City said Wednesday during the conference's first plenary lecture on children, the New York Times reports. In the past five years, 1.5 million children have died of AIDS-related causes, and 15 million children have lost one or both parents to the disease, according to Michael Sidibe, a UNAIDS official. An estimated two million children younger than age 15 are HIV-positive.
Jim Yong Kim of Harvard University said that about 6% to 10% of children in need of antiretroviral drugs receive them, compared with 30% of adults (Altman, New York Times, 8/7). In addition, fewer than one in 10 infants in low- and middle-income countries were tested for HIV within two months of their birth, despite new evidence that early treatment significantly increases their chances of survival, South Africa's The Star reports (Green, The Star, 8/7).
Linda Richter, a psychologist in South Africa who delivered the lecture, said too little government and donor money reaches children living with HIV/AIDS. What money is allocated toward children with HIV/AIDS generally goes to consultants and overhead costs, according to Richter (New York Times, 8/7). Richter said HIV in children has increased eightfold in sub-Saharan Africa, where 90% of the world's HIV-positive children live. The increase is largely the result of MTCT, as many pregnant women did not know they were HIV-positive or did not have access to prevention services (The Star, 8/7). Too few pregnant women receive the antiretroviral drugs that could prevent transmission of HIV, Richter said.
Richter said that although the news media have often focused on the experience of AIDS orphans, "children orphaned by AIDS are, sadly, only the tip of the iceberg of HIV-affected children" (New York Times, 8/7). "It is the needs of all children, especially vulnerable children, not whether they meet the definition of orphan, that must be our primary focus," Richter said, adding, "The focus on orphans had individualized the challenge of care and support. It has framed the epidemic's impact on children as individuals rather than a national social problem and has separated assistance to children from efforts to support families and communities" (The Star, 8/7).
Richter, who said all children in communities severely affected by HIV/AIDS require psychological, nutritional and other support, added that treating children in HIV/AIDS programs would be more effective and efficient if money went directly to families and communities. She added that low-income people have shown that they make good decisions about obtaining food and other provisions and that financial barriers, including bus fare to treatment centers, often prevent women from taking their children for medical care.
A report released by the Joint Learning Initiative on Children and HIV/AIDS said that governments and donors should develop new approaches to help children most affected by the disease. Other speakers during the lecture said that children would be better served through a study of family dynamics. Lorraine Sherr of University College London said that more needs to be done to help families cope psychologically following the death of an HIV-positive family member (New York Times, 8/7).
Kaisernetwork.org is the official webcaster of the XVII International AIDS Conference in Mexico City. Click here to sign up for your Daily Update e-mail during the conference. Related webcasts include:
- The plenary session featuring Richter.
- A Joint Learning Initiative event.
- A session on Achieving Universal Access for Young People.