Albion Monitor /News

A Generation of Orphans

by Thalif Deen

to AIDS Time Bomb series
(IPS) UNITED NATIONS -- The number of children with AIDS is expected to rise from 830,000 in 1996 to more than one million by the end of this year, according to a new U.N. report.

That's just the beginning, says another report by the Harvard School of Public Health; there are likely to be 10 million children infected with HIV by 2000.

"The disastrous impact of AIDS on children has not been given enough attention," warns Peter Piot, director of UNAIDS the joint U.N. initiative against a disease "with no cure or effective vaccine."

He added that if the spread of HIV was not contained rapidly "the gains made in reducing infant and child death rates will be reversed in many countries."

The U.N. report says that currently more than 90 percent of children that are carriers of HIV are from the world's poorer nations in Africa.

Somar Wijayadasa of the UNAIDS office in New York notes that although AIDS is the world's most publicized disease, its impact on children has received an inadequate response.

"Every day about 1,000 children become infected with AIDS," he told IPS. Wijayadasa said that of the 1.5 million people who died of AIDS in 1996, 350,000 were children under the age of 15.

1.2 million Ugandan children have lost at least one parent to AIDS
More children are contracting HIV than ever more, and there is no sign that the infection rate is slowing, according to the U.N. report. Children below the age of 18 are vulnerable to infection through mother-to-child transmission, unsafe blood and injection practices, sex -- including sexual abuse, coercion and commercial exploitation -- and drug use.

"Much of this vulnerability stems from failure to respect their rights, including those guaranteed under the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child," says the report.

In sub-Saharan Africa, the region most severely affected by AIDS so far, AIDS is expected to offset improvements in infant and child mortality achieved in the past decade.

By the year 2010, if the spread of HIV is not contained, AIDS may increase infant mortality by as much as 25 percent and under- five mortality by more than 100 percent in those regions most affected by the disease, according to UNAIDS.

Describing AIDS as "a disease of the young," the report estimates that, by mid-1996, nine million children under 15 had lost their mothers to AIDS. And more than 90 percent of these children live in sub-Saharan Africa.

According to World Bank statistics, there are 1.2 million Ugandan children under the age of 18 who have lost at least one parent to AIDS. This figure is increasing by about 50,000 children each year.

"Health services, already under strain in many developing countries and in poorer areas of the industrialized world, are likely to have to care for increasing numbers of children with severe HIV-associated illnesses," the study notes.

According to the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF), children orphaned by AIDS are the largest and fastest growing group living "in difficult circumstances" in Zimbabwe.

A UNICEF survey found that by the end of the 1996, about eight percent of children under 15 years of age had lost their mothers to AIDS in Zimbabwe.

Commercial sexual exploitation and domestic sexual abuse of children are contributing risk factors for HIV infection among children. "The belief that children are less likely to be infected has raised the demand for younger sex workers in recent years," the study says.

A recent study found 12 percent of breast-feeding infants infected
The AIDS epidemic has also made child sexual abuse and child prostitution more dangerous than ever before. Studies indicate that rates of HIV infection among child sex workers and street children are often very high. A survey of Kenyan girls living on the street indicated that as many as 30 percent were HIV-positive.

A further risk factor for children is breast-feeding -- a practice that by and large is the norm in developing countries. According to U.N. estimates, one in five babies born to HIV- positive mothers become infected around delivery and one in seven during the breast-feeding period.

A recent study of transmission through breast-feeding to infants over six months of age in Cote d'Ivoire found a rate of 12 percent.

Of the estimated worldwide total of 22.6 million people living with HIV/AIDS, 21.8 million are adults and 830,000 are children. In sub-Saharan Africa alone, there are more than 14 million persons living with HIV/AIDS. A total of about six million people have already died of AIDS.

The U.N. battle against AIDS is spearheaded by UNAIDS. Created in January 1996, the joint U.N. program is co-sponsored by six organizations in the U.N. family: the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF), the U.N. Development Program (UNDP), the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank.

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Albion Monitor November 5, 1997 (

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