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UNICEF Launches Global Children's AIDS Campaign

The United Nations Children's Fund kicked off a new campaign by calling on East Asian countries to take stronger action to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS among children and adolescents. UNCEF says AIDS is increasingly affecting Asia's youth.

The UNICEF campaign, launched around the world Tuesday, marks a renewed effort to stem a tide of new HIV infections, especially among the young.

The campaign "Unite For Children, Unite Against AIDS" comes as HIV infection rates rose by 20 percent across the Asia-Pacific region in 2004. Almost 47,000 children and adolescents were newly infected HIV last year; overall, an estimated 120,000 children live with AIDS in the region.

Aupama Rao Singh, UNICEF regional director for East Asia and the Pacific, says the campaign focuses on the plight of young AIDS victims.

"This is the largest campaign ever mounted to bring the world's attention to the global impact of HIV/AIDS on children and young people," she said. "This campaign is a call to action and maps out a response for children on a scale that far exceeds anything to date."

UNICEF says the young are bearing the brunt of the pandemic. In China 40 percent of HIV infections are among people under age 30; in Vietnam, 63 percent of people infected are under 30.

Bai Bagasao, a member of the United Nations AIDS Asia Pacific team, says children are the "missing face" of AIDS and calls on the international community to support affected children, including those left orphaned and often isolated by the disease.

"The impact of AIDS on children and young people is having far reaching consequences for countries in high prevalence HIV," said Ms. Bagasao. "AIDS is robbing tens of million of children of their lives and their childhood today. This campaign comes at the right time."

Thailand reports that 70 percent of the young people living with AIDS are girls and women between the ages of 15 and 24.

Jon Ungphakorn, a Thai senator and AIDS activist, says complacency is undermining the country's earlier efforts to deal with the pandemic.

"Complacency has set in now and we are seeing an upturn in incidents of HIV AIDS among young people," he said. "Today is the opportune moment to remind everyone that HIV/AIDS often hits children in a much more serious way even than adults. But often children are neglected."

UNICEF says millions of children are affected by AIDS, even if they are not infected. Many lose parents or siblings to the disease, and in some communities they are denied schooling, health care and basic protection because of their families' problems.

Civic leader Sombath Somphone, from Laos, says the campaign's success will depend on changing the attitudes and behavior of the younger generation.

"It will depend on how successfully we can engage and involve the young people and how we motivate them to take control over their lives and take action to avoid high risk behavior," he said.

UNICEF hopes this campaign helps drastically reduce new infections among children and young people. The agency wants to increase programs to prevent pregnant women from infecting their babies, and make drugs and other services more available for the youngest victims of AIDS.