By Henry Neondo
With Legislation and Advocacy, Children Affected by HIV/AIDS Can Get the Treatment and Support They Need
Parliamentarians are uniquely placed to make a profound difference for children affected by HIV/AIDS by breaking the silence about the disease’s impact on children and embracing legislation to protect their rights to healthcare and support, according to UNICEF, UNAIDS and the Inter-Parliamentary Union.
“Parliamentarians can put children at the center of the global AIDS agenda where they belong,” UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman said yesterday, speaking from New York to the 114th IPU Assembly underway in Nairobi.
“A child under 15 dies every minute of every day because of AIDS, but children still are rarely mentioned in global surveys of the pandemic. If children are not counted, they don’t count.”
Veneman said parliamentarians can help ensure that children will no longer be missing from the minds of global policymakers, national governments, pharmaceutical companies, academic institutions and public groups responding to the pandemic”.
IPU President Pier Ferdinando Casini said that he is committed to ensuring that parliamentarians will take decisive steps to support the millions of children whose lives are being shadowed – and curtailed – by AIDS.
“The challenge of HIV/AIDS is a test of leadership - and we are leaders,” Casini declared. “We have the influence, and we command the national resources, that will roll back this pandemic. Parliamentarians can not only tackle the fear and prejudice that fuel the epidemic, but we can ensure that public officials fulfill their responsibilities towards HIV-positive children by providing treatment without discrimination”.
Children under 15 account for one in every six global AIDS-related deaths. While prices for pediatric drugs have been reduced over the last months, still less than five percent of young HIV positive children in need of treatment are receiving it. Only 10 percent of pregnant women are offered services to stop the spread of HIV to their babies.
In addition to the children infected with HIV, millions more have lost parents, aunts, uncles, teachers and community leaders to the disease. It is estimated that globally, 15 million children have been orphaned by HIV/AIDS, more than 12 million in sub-Saharan Africa alone.
Many of these children are forced to leave school in order to take care of ailing parents or earn money to support their families.
The IPU gathering included a panel discussion on children and AIDS featuring Stephen Lewis, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for AIDS in Africa. Lewis said that the lack of treatment for HIV-positive children “amounts to a death sentence.
Without treatment, half of these children will die before their second birthday – 80 per cent before they reach the age of five,” he said.
“These children are missing out on treatment because they are still missing from national policies. They are forgotten by the public, who see AIDS as an adult disease, and forgotten by leaders who focus on adults when it comes to laws, policies and budgets”.
The panel focused on concrete ways that parliamentarians can support children affected by HIV/AIDS, namely, breaking the silence and ending stigma and discrimination of those affected by HIV and AIDS, ensuring that there are comprehensive policies and/or legislation for HIV and AIDS that include children, and that there is adequate funding.
Further, the panel discussed ways of protecting, supporting and strengthening families and communities most affected by HIV and AIDS.
The panel looked at how governments could abolish school fees, which prevent many children from getting a basic education.
Veneman urged parliamentarians to “Unite for Children, Unite Against AIDS,” invoking the global partnership initiative as a platform for urgent and sustained programs, advocacy and fundraising to limit the impact of HIV/AIDS on children and help halt the spread of the disease.
The world must be alerted to the reality that HIV/AIDS is robbing tens of millions of children of childhood itself. We must continue to act together, decisively and urgently, to put children at the centre of the HIV/AIDS agenda and ensure an AIDS-free generation.”