Investments for children must be at top of African HIV and AIDS agenda – UNICEF

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All children, particularly the poorest and most marginalized, should have access to HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care. Against the background of reduced funding for HIV/AIDS activities, partners and decision makers must sustain their contributions to make this world HIV free.

As the 16th International Conference on AIDS in Africa (ICASA) gets underway in Ethiopia, UNICEF is appealing to governments and donors to keep up their support for HIV and AIDS programmes across the continent and seize the opportunity to eliminate new infections among children.

“The huge investment in tackling HIV and AIDS during past years is finally paying off. Today in sub-Saharan Africa, fewer children are born with HIV, fewer children lose their parents to AIDS and more young people know how to protect themselves and their partners. Millions of lives have been saved and many families and communities have been kept intact”, said Elhadj As Sy, the UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa. “It is critical that we safeguard these gains and meet the commitments we have made to reach all children.”

Against the background of reduced funding for HIV/AIDS activities, Mr. Sy appealed to partners and decision makers to sustain their contributions and make sure that all children, particularly the poorest and most marginalized, have access to HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care.

According to the 2011 Universal Access report, 90 per cent of new infections among children still occur in sub-Saharan Africa. The total number of 390,000 newly infected children in 2010 on the continent, however, represents a reduction by 30 per cent compared to the peak of 560,000 new infections in 2002-2003. This has been the result of a massive roll-out of services to prevent the transmission of the virus from mothers to their children.

Despite the progress, children continue to lag behind adults when it comes to accessing critical services, including treatment. Between 2009 and 2010, the estimated number of children with HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa who received antiretroviral therapy (ART) rose from 296,000 to 387,500. However, they represent only a quarter of children in need compared to roughly half of eligible adults receiving this life-saving treatment.

Recent survey data from sub-Saharan Africa also showed that only 15 per cent of young women and ten per cent of young men aged 15 to 24 years have been tested and know their HIV status. Many adolescents and young adults are diagnosed too late to fully benefit from treatment.

“Preventing new infections, especially among young women, must remain a critical part of our response”, said Mr. Sy. “Two thirds of young people between 15 and 24 years of age living with the virus are female. Unless we tackle the gender dimension of the HIV/AIDS crisis, we will fail to meet our goal of reducing by half the number of new infections among young people by 2015. We have to comply with our commitment to create an AIDS- free generation.”

The ICASA meeting takes place at a pivotal moment in the HIV epidemic, when the world is closer than ever before to ending new infections among children. UNICEF believes that funding for HIV must be regarded as an investment in the future rather than a cost that can be cut.

Source: UNICEF, Geneva

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