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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2829

U.N. Aims For an AIDS-Free Generation

By Thalif Deen - Inter Press Service

United Nations, 04 April, (IPS):- The United Nations is intensifying its worldwide efforts to help create a new generation of children who will be born free of HIV/AIDS, a disease that has particularly devastated parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

While the news is "mixed", achieving an "AIDS-free generation is possible", predicts a new U.N. report released Thursday.

In 2007, an estimated 290,000 children under age 15 died from AIDS, and 12.1 million children in sub-Saharan Africa lost one or both parents to the widespread disease.

"For millions of children, HIV and AIDS have starkly altered the experience of growing up," says the report.

And millions more have experienced "deepening poverty, school dropout and discrimination as a result of the epidemic."

The study, titled "Children and AIDS", points out that last year most of the 2.1 million children under five who were living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, were infected before their birth, during delivery or while breastfeeding.

And young people aged 15-24 accounted for about 40 percent of the new HIV infections among all people over 15.

"Today's children and young people have never known a world free of AIDS," said Ann M. Veneman, executive director of the U.N. children's agency UNICEF.

"Thousands lose their lives to the disease every year, and millions have lost parents and caregivers. Children must be at the heart of the global AIDS agenda," she said.

According to the study, children and adolescents are the most vulnerable to HIV infections, the least equipped to protect themselves against it, and the ones with the biggest stake in stopping it.

The origins of the campaign for an AIDS-free generation go back to a joint U.N. effort called "Unite for Children, Unite Against AIDS", initiated in October 2005.

The U.N. study, a collaborative effort by UNAIDS, the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF, reviews the progress made and the challenges remaining in four key areas called the 'Four P's': preventing HIV transmission from mothers to children (PMTCT); providing pediatric treatment; preventing infection among adolescents and young people; and protecting and supporting children affected by AIDS.

Although funding gaps persist, says the study, governments and donors alike are allocating more resources to prevention, treatment and protection efforts. In 2007, about 10 billion dollars was made available to combat AIDS, up from 6.1 billion dollars in 2004.

Listing "progress and achievements", the study notes that most countries are making "substantial progress" towards mother-to-child transmission of HIV, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.

In low and middle-income countries, the proportion of HIV-positive pregnant women receiving antiretroviral prophylaxis, to reduce the risk of transmission, increased from 10 percent in 2004 to 23 percent in 2006.

"Of note is the steady progress made in Eastern and Southern Africa, which is home to the majority of children who have been newly infected," the study points out. "The priority is now to implement new initiatives and scale up those that have already been tested and proven effective."

The report calls for action in four different areas:

First, strengthen communities and families whose role is crucial to every aspect of a child-centered approach to AIDS;

Second, reinforce health, education and social welfare systems which are key to effective interventions to support children affected by HIV and AIDS;

Third, integrate services for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission in maternal, newborn and child health-care programmes and;

Fourth, consolidate data and measurement in order to document advances and shortfalls and strengthen commitment.

Dr. Peter Piot, executive director of UNAIDS, says that important gains have been made in addressing treatment needs for children and in preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

However, he admits, "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."

- Inter Press Service (IPS) News Agency -

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