AIDS creates unprecedented orphan crisis
10 Jul 2002 15:55
By Patricia Reaney
BARCELONA, Spain, July 10 (Reuters) - The grim litany of statistics
unrolled at the Barcelona AIDS summit was capped on Wednesday
with a figure that shocked even the experts -- 25 million children
orphaned by the decade's end.
"AIDS has created an orphan crisis," said Peter Piot, the executive
director of the U.N. AIDS agency.
"This is without doubt one of the most shocking reports that has been
released at this conference."
Africa, hardest hit by the AIDS epidemic with 28.5 million HIV/AIDS
sufferers, also has the highest proportion of children who have lost
parents, according to the report.
By last year, more than 10 million children in sub-Saharan Africa
alone had lost one or both parents to AIDS. Twelve countries
accounted for 70 percent of the AIDS orphans.
The report, entitled Children on the Brink 2002, predicts that by 2010
almost six percent of all children in Africa will be orphaned because of
the disease that is destroying families, communities and the fabric of
Piot compared the impact to that of war. But fathers are killed in wars,
he said, and AIDS robs children of both parents.
"This unprecedented crisis will require radically scaled-up national,
regional and community responses in the decades to come," he said.
Even if new HIV infection stopped, the number of orphans will continue
to increase because so many people are infected.
Without the antiretroviral drugs that have extended the lives of people
in wealthy countries, there is about an eight- or nine-year interval
between infection with HIV and death in countries in sub-Saharan
Africa, experts say.
DRUG TREATMENT FOR ALL
Piot cited the orphan crisis as another reason to initiate drug treatment
for everyone where it is possible.
The report was published jointly by UNAIDS, the U.N. children's
agency UNICEF and USAID, which provides funding to fight the
epidemic. It used estimates developed by the U.S. Bureau of Statistics
and data from 88 countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the
Carol Bellamy, the executive director of UNICEF, said children
orphaned by AIDS who are free of infection face discrimination
because it is often assumed they have the virus.
Orphans are also more likely to face psychological problems,
economic hardship and malnutrition and sickness.
Bellamy emphasised the importance of providing support to protect
and care for children, mobilise and strengthen community-based
responses and help orphans to stay in school.
Governments also have a part to play by developing essential services
to meet the needs of the most vulnerable children.
"We must respond to these devastating statistics by addressing the
need and rights of both orphans and vulnerable children whose
parents are still living," she said.
While Africa has the highest proportion of orphans, Asia has the
largest number but fewer lost their parents to AIDS. Approximately
two million were orphaned by AIDS in 2001.
But the number of orphans in Asia could spread as the epidemic
grows. Even low prevalence rates in the populous region could
increase the number of orphans to levels that surpass the figures in
the most severely affected African countries -- Nigeria, Ethiopia and
the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
An advertising campaign that premiered at the Barcelona meeting on
Wednesday, to be launched in the United States in October, will try to
drive home the severity of the AIDS crisis by focusing on children
orphaned by the epidemic.
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