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Children's Advocates Urge Help for HIV-Infected Youth

A coalition of child advocacy organizations is appealing to the world to recognize that HIV-infected children have a right to treatment. VOA's Peter Heinlein reports from the United Nations children's issues will be high on the agenda next week when the world body convenes a special General Assembly session on AIDS.

As the world body prepares for a week of high-level discussions about AIDS, a group of organizations calling itself the Global Movement For Children is talking about the pandemic's forgotten victims. U.N. children's fund chief Ann Veneman calls children "the hidden face of AIDS"

"In the 25 years since the start of the pandemic, the world has viewed HIV/AIDS primarily as a disease of adults," she said. "But because of AIDS, children are missing parents, missing teachers, missing treatment and care, missing protection, missing many things, except for the devastating effects of this disease."

Veneman noted that only one in 20 HIV-positive children receive the treatment they need. She appealed to people everwhere to recognize that children have the same right to treatment as adults, even though their needs might be different.

"We cannot assume that what works for adults will also work for children," she said. "Because we know that is not the case. For example, diagnosing infants is complicated, requiring special expertise and expensive equipment that is not widely available in the developing world. If we can't diagnose children, obviously we cannot treat them."

The report by the Global Movement on Children says nine out of 10 HIV-positive youngsters are infected by their mothers. It says fewer than one in 10 HIV-infected pregnant women have access to treatments that could prevent transmission of the virus to their babies.

The U.N. General Assembly special session on AIDS beginning May 31 is expected to attract more than a dozen heads of state, many from AIDS ravaged African states.

They will be joined by 100 ministers and more than 1,000 civilian representatives for the three-day meeting.

First Lady Laura Bush will represent the United States at a high-level plenary session June 2.