A United Nations report released today shows progress in treating children with AIDS and preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV, but urges greater efforts to stem the tide of the global epidemic.
According to Children and AIDS, there were some 2.1 million children under 15 living with HIV in 2007, most of whom were infected before birth, during delivery or while breastfeeding. And young people aged 15-24 still account for about 40 per cent of the new HIV infections among all people over 15 in 2007.
In addition, an estimated 290,000 children under 15 died from AIDS last year, and 12.1 million children in sub-Saharan Africa lost one or both parents to the disease.
“Today’s children and young people have never known a world free of AIDS,” said Ann M. Veneman, Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which along with the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the World Health Organization (WHO) produced the report.
“Thousands lose their lives to the disease every year, and millions have lost parents and caregivers,” she stated. “Children must be at the heart of the global AIDS agenda.”
The report examines progress and challenges in four key areas – preventing HIV transmission from mothers to children (PMTCT), providing paediatric treatment, preventing infection among adolescents and young people, and protecting and supporting children affected by AIDS.
Among other findings, the report says that by the end of 2006, 21 countries, including Benin, Botswana, Brazil, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa and Thailand, were on track to meeting the target of 80 per cent coverage for PMTCT by 2010, up from only 11 countries in 2005.
Also, the number of HIV-positive children in low- and middle-income countries receiving antiretroviral treatment rose by 70 per cent from 2005 to 2006. While the proportion of HIV-positive pregnant women receiving antiretrovirals to reduce mother-to-child transmission increased by 60 per cent during the same period, it is estimated that only 23 per cent of HIV-positive pregnant women are receiving antiretrovirals.
“We are making progress but still face many challenges,” said Dr. Kevin DeCock, Director of WHO’s HIV Division. “Critically, we must provide antiretroviral treatment for women who require it for their own health, which will save their lives but also assure a future for their children. To achieve all this, health systems and their most precious component, the health care workforce, must be strengthened.”
Progress has been made in many countries with regard to the protection and care of children affected by AIDS and on their access to social services, as well as in school enrolment rates for children who have lost both parents to the disease. At the same time, AIDS-affected children are still more likely than other children to fall behind in school and to live in poorer households, according to the report.
UNAIDS Executive Director Dr. Peter Piot noted that while important gains have been made in addressing treatment needs for children and in preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV. “However, much more needs to be done to prevent HIV amongst young people and adolescents if we are to make a major change in the direction of the epidemic,” he stressed.
The report urges more resources for prevention, treatment and protection efforts, implementing new initiatives and scaling up those that have already been tested and proven effective.