"AIDS is wreaking havoc on childhood," noted United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan in a speech this week to mark the launch of the 'Unite for Children. Unite Against AIDS' campaign.
"Nearly 25 years into the pandemic, and help is reaching less than 10 percent of the children affected by HIV/AIDS, leaving too many children to grow up alone, grow up too fast or not grow up at all," Annan said.
As the pandemic of HIV/AIDS grows throughout the world, the more concern is turning toward the youth population. Indeed, as the just-launched UN campaign and many other activists note, children and young people are easily forgotten in the discussions on HIV and AIDS.
As the "missing faces" of the disease, it is essential to turn attention toward addressing HIV/AIDS among the youth population of the world. HIV/AIDS affects young people severely in many ways, and it is essential to address this issue immediately to assist in curbing the suffering of children world wide.
According to statistics presented in a report by UN AIDS and UNICEF organizations, every day, 1,800 children are born infected with AIDS, 1,400 children under the age of 15 die from AIDS, and more than 6,000 young people between the ages of 15 and 24 are newly infected with HIV daily.
Mozambique (which, according to Ruth Ansah Ayisi in the Mail and Guardian newspaper of Mozambique) has a 15.6 percent HIV prevalence, 91,000 children in that country are living with HIV. Ayisi reports that, in 2004, 17,500 children under the age of five died in the southern African country.
Developing programs to address this problem on a variety of level seems a necessary step if we as a world community do not want to see an entire generation lost to a devastating disease.
Stopping the transmission of HIV/AIDS to newborn children is an essential step to seeing a reduction in the rates of childhood infections and deaths from the disease. It is also one that involves getting assistance for pregnant mothers with the disease, as well as spreading awareness about AIDS and pregnancy to individuals everywhere, so as to see a reduction in the rate of AIDS transmissions that lead to children being born infected. Help for pregnant mothers is vital, with fewer than 1 in 10 HIV-positive women getting treatment to help prevent transmission, reports Robyn Dixon in the L.A. Times.
Crises face many of these children born infected. With infected parents, they run the risk of becoming orphans: Indeed, there are currently an estimated 12 to 15 million AIDS orphans.
Even if not orphaned, children infected with HIV/AIDS face a difficult time accessing many programs that offer support and health treatments, many activists report. Similarly, even if such programs exist, they are on the whole woefully under-funded. UNICEF reports about 95 percent of AIDS orphans never get any medical assistance, and most receive no financial support.
Children facing infection also face issues such as discrimination in schools and the stigma that many associate with HIV/AIDS victims. In places such as Liberia, where the AIDS epidemic runs rampant through the youth population, a UN study found that "Many of the young Liberians studied held deep-seated negative attitudes towards people living with HIV/AIDS" and indeed many expressed ideas that infected individuals should be isolated or removed to AIDS camps.
Such attitudes are likely prevalent in America as well. Such stigmas and discriminatory practices can cause parents not to seek either testing or treatment for both themselves and their children if they feel it might indicate that they are living with HIV/AIDS.
Besides children born with AIDS, the rates of infection and the consequences of the disease are growing in the 15- to 24-year-old population worldwide. Every minute of every day, reports UNICEF, someone who is close to the age most of us here are at CSU is infected with HIV/AIDS. A growing group for concern, education and intervention programs are necessary (in many places, starting at a younger age) to combat the growth of the disease in this age group. Young people, UN studies indicate, must be involved in HIV/AIDS programming, for it is "far more likely to succeed than those [programs] that do not" involve young people.
Clearly, it is time to turn attention and funding toward issues of HIV/AIDS facing young people and children around the world today. Much must be done to combat this disease and see that an entire generation is not lost due to their invisibility in the AIDS discourse.
Meg Burd is a graduate anthropology student. Her column runs every Thursday in the Collegian.