Global perspective Human stories

UNICEF calls for urgent global action on AIDS orphans

UNICEF calls for urgent global action on AIDS orphans

Carol Bellamy
The global response to the crisis of youngsters orphaned by AIDS is grossly inadequate and without a greater sense of urgency and collective action, millions more will put themselves at enormous risk in their struggle to stay alive, the head of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said today.

"Almost without exception, children orphaned by AIDS are marginalized, stigmatized, malnourished, uneducated, and psychologically damaged," Executive Director Carol Bellamy said as delegations from 22 African countries convened for a five-day meeting in Namibia to consider the actions needed to step-up the response to the orphan crisis in the eastern and southern parts of the continent. "They are affected by actions over which they have no control and in which they had no part."

Ms. Bellamy highlighted some actions that she said could be immediately implemented, including helping orphans who are out of school, supporting schools as a front-line response for learning and as community resources and safe havens, as well as placing the orphans crisis at the centre of public policy and action.

According to UNICEF, about 3 million children are living with HIV/AIDS while 13.4 million others under the age of 15 have been orphaned by the deadly virus, including 11 million in sub-Saharan Africa.

The ranks of AIDS orphans will soon swell by additional millions who are living with sick and dying parents, UNICEF noted, projecting that by 2010, the total number of children orphaned by the disease will nearly double to 25 million.

Because the global AIDS pandemic is still in its early stages, an increase in the number of orphans will translate into an explosion in the number of child prostitutes, youngsters living on the streets and child domestic workers, UNICEF warned.

In related news, the Special Envoy of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan for HIV/AIDS in Africa, Stephen Lewis, is slated to begin a three-week mission tomorrow to southern Africa, where he will meet with government officials, representatives of donor governments and relief agencies, and people living with the disease.

"I think it is reasonable to argue that AIDS has caused the food crisis; that what we all feared on day would happen, is happening," he said in a recent speech, referring to the key role that the disease has played in causing and exacerbating the region's current food shortage.