1997 UNAIDS report, entitled Children
Living in a World with AIDS, documented the increasingly dramatic
situation of millions of children worldwide who are living under threat
from the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
day, 1000 children become infected with HIV
one million children under the age of 15 are living with the virus and
suffering the physical and psychological consequences of infection
nine million children are estimated to have lost their mothers to AIDS
the beginning of the epidemic, over two million HIV-positive children have
been born to HIV-positive mothers, and hundreds of thousands of children
have acquired HIV from blood transfusions and through sex or drug use.
"AIDS is the most recognized
disease in the world today," said UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot in 1997.
the disastrous impact it is having on children has not been given enough
attention. If the spread of HIV is not rapidly contained, the gains
made in reducing infant and child death rates will be reversed in many
estimates that by the year 2010, AIDS may increase infant mortality by as
much as 75% and under-five child mortality by more than 100% in the
countries hardest hit by the epidemic.
Living with HIV
to the report, more children than ever are contracting HIV and there is no
sign that the infection rate is slowing.
In 1996 about 400,000 children worldwide under the age of 15 years
became infected with HIV.
Around 90% of these children acquired the virus from their
HIV-positive mothers, whether before or during birth or through
of child-bearing age make up an ever-increasing proportion of people with
HIV worldwide - today, AIDS kills more women than men in sub-Saharan
Africa. UNAIDS says reducing the vulnerability of infants to HIV infection
in the long term means increasing women's control over their lives,
improving their ability to take decisions about their own reproductive and
sexual health, and increasing the knowledge and sense of responsibility of
both men and women about HIV prevention.
It also means increasing women's access to antiviral drug regimes,
which can cut the risk of mother-to-child transmission.
who are already infected and sick are in a grave situation, especially in
poorer countries that have been unable to benefit from recent advances in antiviral
In these countries, even inexpensive medicines to treat HIV-related
illnesses and reduce suffering are often unavailable.
More than 20% of HIV-positive children in Europe are still alive at
the age of ten; by contrast, in Zambia nearly 50% of HIV-positive children
die by the age of two.
Effects on Children
are not only infected by HIV; they are also affected.
Children living in communities struck by AIDS feel its impact as
their parents and teachers become infected, as health and social services
are stretched beyond their limits, and as their families take in other
children who have been orphaned by the epidemic.
In all countries, families and the traditional safety net of the
extended family are coming under increasing pressure - a recent survey of
social care in seven countries showed that by the age of eight, 60% of
children born to HIV-positive mothers lived in alternative care.
When an HIV diagnosis occurs in the family, often the household
suffers disproportionately from stigma, isolation and impoverishment.
The HIV/AIDS epidemic has also made sexual abuse of children and
child prostitution more dangerous than ever.
The belief that children are less likely to be infected has raised
the demands for younger sex workers - recent studies estimate that more
than one million children now enter the sex trade every year.
Window of Hope
if children are an increasing part of the AIDS problem, they are also a
critical part of the solution.
The report, which says information and the promotion of children's
rights are important keys to reducing risky behaviour, recommends a number
of areas in which sustained efforts can improve children's situation.
These include providing sexual health education; expanding both
educational and employment opportunities, and strengthening health and
social services to families and communities.
has changed the world for children,"
said Peter Piot.
is the responsibility of everyone - governments, communities, and
individuals - to rise to this new challenge and to bring urgent support to
children and their families as they face the uniquely painful realities of
life in a world with AIDS."
publication of the 1997 report also marked the launch of a World AIDS
Campaign, through which UNAIDS aims to increase public understanding of
the devastating impact of HIV/AIDS on children and encourage further
action to prevent HIV infection and improve care.
understanding of the magnitude and diversity of the impact of HIV/AIDS
on children, their families and their communities;
commitment, improved policies and increased action for preventing HIV
infection and minimizing the epidemic's impact on children, their
families and their communities;
understanding of the interaction between children's rights, human
rights and HIV/AIDS.
campaign is led by UNAIDS and its co-sponsoring organisations: the UN
Children's Fund (UNICEF), UN Development Programme (UNDP), UN Population
Fund (UNFPA), UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
(UNESCO), World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank.
Other partners include the Children and AIDS International NGO
Network; Francois-Xavier Bagnaud, Centre for Health and Human Rights,
Harvard University; Panos; and the NGO Group for the Convention on the
Rights of the Child.
Anne Winter, Manager, Communications and Public Information,
20 Avenue Appia,
CH-1211 Geneva 27,
Tel +41-22/791 4577, +41-79/213 4312 (mobile), fax +41-22/691 4187
e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, web
published in Go Between 65, Au-Sept, 1997