A new report says millions of children are unable to protect themselves from HIV/AIDS. The international children’s organization Plan says many young people cannot choose safe sexual behavior due to poverty, as well as social and cultural pressures. VOA’s Joe De Capua has details.
The 50 page report is entitled “Circle of Hope.” Plan’s chief executive, Tom Miller, says it warns that simply knowing the dangers of HIV/AIDS does not offer enough protection.
“There’s kind of somewhat of a naïve impression that somehow if you just educate people, education will take care of everything. And education in terms of informing kids about how HIV/AIDS is transmitted etc., that’s extremely important. But one of the things that the report says is that there are a lot of kids out there who really don’t have choices,” he says.
For example, many young girls who are poor and hungry may have unprotected sex with older men who are infected with HIV, in order get money to buy a meal. Also, boys face a lot of peer pressure to have unprotected sex. The Plan report says, “Tradition, gender inequality and social relationships severely limit the choices young people make.”
Miller says, “It’s not just the people who have HIV/AIDS, but it’s particularly focusing on the kids who are affected by people who have it. They have to drop out of school. They don’t have enough food. They don’t have any caregivers. You can go on and on and on.”
Miller says the international community must “shift the focus” of AIDS programs to include more than just “weapons” against the disease.
“Anti-retrovirals, very, very important, but you’ve got to look at not just treatment, but you’ve got to look at prevention. You’ve got to look at helping families that are affected by HIV/AIDS. We don’t even use the term any more ‘HIV/AIDS orphans,’ which you hear a lot in the states, because we talk about children who are affected by HIV/AIDS. You know, you don’t have to have it to be affected by it,” he says.
The name of the report, “Circle of Hope,” refers to those who are HIV positive, their families, communities and governments - all of which Miller says must contribute to a systematic approach against the disease.
“Focus on the family. Focus particularly on the child. Focus on prevention as well as treatment. Focus on transition after parents die because they do die. It doesn’t mean focus any less attention on finding that vaccine or get anti-retrovirals to a larger proportion of the population,” he says.
Miller gives one example of breaking the cycle of behavior that leads to HIV infection.
“If you do all you can to keep girls in school; that reduces their vulnerability. The chances of them getting married at an early age to someone who’s got HIV/AIDS, the chances are better that they won’t get married. That they’ll stay in school. That they be more cognizant of the dangers out there. And literally just staying in school is a big, big, positive variable,” he says.
He says subsidizing the cost of school uniforms can help, or drilling bore holes in villages so girls don’t to travel long distances to find water for their families.
The Plan chief executive says the solutions are not complicated, “they just take a lot of sweat and perseverance.”