UNICEF calls for 'war of liberation' against HIV/AIDS
UNICEF –July 12, 2000
Wednesday 12 July 2000: Armed with findings that HIV/AIDS infects six people under the age of 25 every minute, UNICEF said today that if nations hope to defeat the disease they must commit to the "largest mobilization of resources in their history" and organize themselves as if they were fighting "a full-blown war of liberation," with young people in the forefront.
"HIV/AIDS constitutes the greatest threat many societies have ever faced," said Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of UNICEF. "Unfortunately, in many ways it has been a hidden enemy, aided and abetted by a general reluctance to acknowledge its strength and our own vulnerability. Thus we have not confronted AIDS with the full force we are capable of," she said.
"Virtually every society understands what it means to wage a struggle for liberation," Ms. Bellamy continued, noting that the concept has particular resonance in Africa. "It means mobilizing every available resource; it means involving men and women on an equal basis; it means accepting the vital role to be played by young people; and it means sparing no effort and brooking no diversions until all of society is liberated. That's what is needed now -- nothing less."
Ms. Bellamy's comments came as UNICEF unveiled a new report detailing the enormous impact of HIV/AIDS among young people, whom UNICEF said "hold the key to breaking the transmission rate and ultimately defeating AIDS."
The UNICEF report, The Progress of Nations 2000, finds that:
"What this report tells us is that, so far, our efforts to stop the spread of HIV have not been sufficient," Ms. Bellamy told a large audience gathered in Durban for the International AIDS Conference this week. "Particularly disturbing is the evidence that large numbers of young people in HIV-prevalent countries are not clear on how to protect themselves. Many don't know they are at risk at all – especially girls -- and that's a disaster."
Indeed, The Progress of Nations report finds that:
At the same time, throughout the report UNICEF argues that HIV/AIDS education efforts that involve young people in their design and which engage them at young enough an age have shown success. Examples include Uganda, Malawi, Senegal and
Zambia, where HIV rates have started falling. Prevention efforts in Thailand are also bearing fruit, with surveys in the heavily affected Thai province of Chiang Rai showing declining infection rates among women, especially younger women. UNICEF said it will focus its resources on strengthening such efforts.
As a reflection of that commitment, UNICEF recruited two young Africans to write essays on HIV/AIDS for The Progress of Nations 2000. African music star Femi Anikulapo-Kuti, whose well-known father, Fela, died of AIDS in 1997, writes that "Africa and its friends need to confront AIDS with the same determination and unity as they would any enemy seeking to annihilate them." Nineteen-year-old Hortense Bla Me, president of Côte d'Ivoire's 100-member Children's Parliament, writes that "peer education is the most powerful yet underused tool we have to confront HIV/AIDS."
UNICEF pointed out that the majority of young people under age 25 are HIV-negative, including the vast majority of teens younger than 19. The agency said that cultivating among this majority the knowledge, attitudes and skills to protect themselves is key to preventing them from becoming infected as they grow older.
UNICEF has also been active in efforts to reduce transmission of the HIV virus from mother to child. In Botswana and Rwanda, pilot projects underway stress a holistic approach to treatment, combining counselling with medical services. A project in northern Thailand has seen rates of transmission cut from 25 per cent to 7.5 per cent.
In addition to its findings on HIV/AIDS, The Progress of Nations 2000 contains essays and statistics on three other areas of child rights: early childhood care, immunization, and protection from exploitation and neglect.
"Although our emphasis in the report is on HIV/AIDS, the spread of this disease among young people is emblematic of something much broader: the world's failure to fulfill children's rights," Ms. Bellamy said. "In fact, if governments invested adequate resources in childhood health care and education, in care for pregnant women, in basic immunization, and in straightforward protection of children from exploitation, HIV/AIDS would likely be much less prevalent than it currently is."
Focusing on early childhood care in an essay entitled "The Time To Sow," Ms. Bellamy argues that effective care for children between birth and the age of eight is the crucible of sustainable human development. "The building blocks are fairly modest," writes Ms. Bellamy. "Children need health care, sound nutrition (with emphasis on breastfeeding), a safe and hygienic environment and playful and loving interaction." UNICEF estimates that a modest additional global expenditure of US $70 billion to $80 billion each year would extend basic services that provide this kind of vital foundation to all. Statistical tables accompanying the Ms. Bellamy essay look at stunting, iodine deficiency, low birth weight, pre-natal care, community health care utilization, and teen mothers.
In the third essay, "The Power of Immunization," Dr. William Foege, world-renowned expert on international health and an associate of the Task Force for Child Survival and Development, argues for the need to improve and expand basic immunization, especially in poorer countries. While acknowledging important gains in the 1980s and 1990s, Dr. Foege argues that an entire new generation of vaccines is necessary to achieve immunization for all and vanquish growing diseases such as Hib (Haemophilus influenzae type B, which causes bacterial pneumonia and meningitis), malaria and HIV/AIDS. He points out that 30,000 young children die each day of preventable causes. Statistical tables explore DPT3 coverage (diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus), progress toward polio eradication, deaths caused by neonatal tetanus, and who pays for what when it comes to vaccines.
The final essay, "The Lost Children," by Juan Somavia, Director-General of the International Labor Organisation, focuses on hundreds of millions of children who, barely heard and hardly seen, are "lost among the living." Among these are children who labour on farms and in factories, who are trapped by sexual exploitation, who serve as child soldiers, who are not registered at birth or who live on the streets. Data briefs examine urban/rural gaps in education, the challenges facing orphans, the problem of female genital mutilation, lack of access to clean water and sanitation, and the decline in official development assistance.
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