WORLD AIDS DAY: 20th anniversary

Summary: This year's theme is 'Lead, Empower, Deliver'

As the world takes stock of its efforts to address the epidemic, at least one children’s organisation was warning against spending cuts on HIV and AIDS in light of the global financial crisis.

Focusing on Africa, Save the Children warns that any cut in HIV and AIDS funding would put the life of more African children in danger

“HIV and AIDS-impacted children in Africa - who have never heard of Wall Street - should not pay the price for the global economic decline,” says Amé David, Save the Children spokesperson in Dakar

“It is unfortunate that Western governments can mobilise hundreds of billions to save the banking sector, but not enough to provide care and support for all African children at high-risk of exposure to HIV and AIDS.”

Despite annual increases in funding – US$10 billion in 2007 - the current level of resources has fallen short of what is needed to meet the target of universal access to HIV prevention, treatment and care by 2010. At the Group of Eight (G8) Summit last July, the most industrialised countries agreed to spend $60 billion over five years to fight diseases such as HIV and AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis in Africa.

In a position statement, U.S. President-elect Barack Obama pledged to provide at least $50 billion by 2013 for the global fight against HIV and AIDS. France has also become the largest European donor to the Global Fund and one of the leading contributors to a range of HIV-responding initiatives in Africa with funding of 360 million euros yearly.

“Funding HIV and AIDS programmes is a wise investment”, says Tonya Nyagiro, HIV and AIDS expert from Save the Children. “All the encouraging gains in HIV prevention, care and support that have been made for children could be drastically reversed in with a sudden cut in aid funding. We simply cannot afford it. Either we sustain and accelerate our efforts or we loose most of the progress made in the past decades.”

Nine out of ten denied drugs

Medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) warned that nine out of ten children with HIV do not have access to life-saving antiretroviral drugs.

Governments and donors need to be more ambitious in bringing existing paediatric HIV tests and drugs to the children who need them, a statement said.

This lack of access is particularly threatening for babies who are born with the virus as half of them will die before their second birthday if untreated.

MSF called on governments and donors to roll out existing tests faster and to increase considerably the use of a paediatric version of a standard fixed-dose combination (FDC) drug - a pill that combines all needed drugs in one tablet.

"It was when we introduced this easy-to-use pill that we were able to boost the number of children on antiretroviral treatment in our projects," said Dr Tido von Schoen-Angerer, Director of MSF's Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines. "We are showing that HIV care for children is possible. We challenge governments and donors to set ambitious goals and stop abandoning the majority of children with HIV to their fate."

Stigma still prevalent

Despite 20 years of education and campaigns, a San Francisco newspaper, in the US, warned that the mistrust of people infected is fueled by myths, a lack of knowledge about how the disease is transmitted, and value judgments about how it is acquired.

A national survey last year by the Foundation for AIDS Research found that 1 in 5 respondents would be uncomfortable even having a close friend who was HIV positive, and 59 per cent would be uncomfortable with an HIV positive woman as a child care provider. Since 1990, there has been no change in the percentage of Americans who mistakenly believe that HIV can be transmitted by kissing (37 per cent), sharing a drinking glass (22 per cent), or touching a toilet seat (16 per cent). Read the rest of the story here

A survey released in November 2007 found that in South Africa, a fifth of young people said they would not stay friends with someone who was infected, while in the UK, the figure was one in seven. In Kyrgyzstan, where HIV is a growing problem, almost half of young people questioned said a friendship would end if their friend contracted HIV.

Alyson Lewis, HIV adviser at the Red Cross, said: "The stigma and secrecy attached to HIV is having a direct impact on young people's ability worldwide to access information and talk openly about their fears and concerns about the spread of this devastating pandemic.

"Almost half of British young people interviewed would want to keep it a secret if a member of their family was living with HIV. "Many young people view HIV as a shameful secret, and we need to ensure that we demystify these fears and help young people to be more aware of the risks and how to protect themselves." Read more

A report in the Times of India discussed the rejection of children infected with HIV and orphaned by AIDS. "One child was brought to me by a woman from a major orphanage who was wearing gloves up to her elbows," says Anjali Gopalan, who has run the orphanage for eight years. "A lot has to do with the fact that the medical profession is still reluctant to even touch people with HIV. Doctors are not touching patients."

Education the best vaccine?

Preventing HIV has become so political that young people are being denied their right to life saving education, according to the Politics of Prevention, a controversial new book launched at the 17th Global AIDS conference in Mexico in August.

“The most political issues hampering the response are unlikely to be resolved at the conference despite the $100 million being spent”, said Tania Boler, one of the authors.

“Successful HIV prevention involves talking frankly about controversial issues like young people’s sexuality or condoms or homosexuality,” said Boler.

“But conservative governments are using their aid money to distort scientific understanding, spreading the abstinence only message with very little scientific evidence to support it,” she added. Find out more

Youth shadow reports on HIV and AIDS

The Global Youth Coalition on HIV/AIDS is a youth-led, global network of 4,000 young leaders and adult allies working on youth and HIV and AIDS in 150 countries world-wide.

At UNGASS (UN Special Session on HIV and AIDS) Review Meetings, member states of the UN submit special country progress reports on Universal Access to prevention, care, and treatment for HIV and AIDS. This year, as a parallel project, GYCA released Youth Shadow Reports – evaluations of government commitments to young people affected by HIV and AIDS issues.

GYCA members produced 11 reports, as well as 7 simplified “community-level” versions of the reports in various parts of the world. Click here to view the reports

Youth-led strategy

The World Assembly of Youth notes that more than half of the 60 million people who have been infected by HIV in the past 20 years have been young people aged between 15 and 24. Twelve million young people are today living with HIV or AIDS, and 6,000 more are infected every day: that is 250 every hour.

The Assembly has identified six ways of ensuring children and young people are at the forefront of the battle against the diseases:

  • National Youth Councils (NYCs) need to be involved throughout the development process of any policy
  • Create an enabling environment for appropriate laws and polices by promoting policy dialogue for HIV/STI prevention and care at all levels. This will mobilise resources, ensure ownership and sustainability, and promote a rights-based approach
  • Foster the participation of all youth in HIV and AIDS policy development and programmes, including those with disabilities and people living with HIV and AIDS
  • Work closely with a single-coordinating National AIDS Council and promote the decentralisation of AIDS councils down to the local levels
  • NYCs need to be autonomous to prevent overly strong influence from their ministries to enhance their prominence at regional and international levels
  • Establish Youth Parliaments in countries where they do not exists to create a platform for consultation among lawmakers and youth

Further information




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