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Houston-Based Medical Program Joins UNICEF to Help Children With AIDS

Baylor College of Medicine in Houston has signed an agreement with the United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF, to work together in fighting AIDS in children around the world. Baylor has taken a leading role in providing care for pediatric AIDS victims worldwide.

The agreement with UNICEF is built on work already underway by the Baylor College of Medicine's International Pediatric AIDS Initiative and will result in this program being the largest of its kind in the world. The president of the Baylor program, Dr. Mark Kline, says the partnership will utilize the strengths of both organizations.

"UNICEF is a master at coordinating various health-related activities, such as HIV-AIDS care with tuberculosis, for example," said Dr. Kline. "Baylor, on the other hand, is an implementing organization. We put doctors and nurses on the ground to take care of children with HIV."

Dr. Kline says the U.N. agency has well-established contacts with governments and private organizations worldwide that can facilitate the establishment of local programs. He says Baylor health care professionals have trained counterparts around the world in how to use treatments that have proven effective in the United States. He says the young patients in the developing world have responded to antiviral drug treatment just as well as have the US patients. Dr. Kline says the Baylor staff members working in the field can now count on a vast network of trained healthcare professionals on the local level.

"We do provide staff from Houston, but we have a large number of staff members based in countries around the world, in Africa and Eastern Europe and in Asia. So we call on those staff, who are based in the countries where the need is greatest, to participate in the training. Then we enlist local trainers as well," he said. "Of course, our ultimate goal is to train trainers."

Dr. Kline started the Baylor program 10 years ago as an effort to treat orphans suffering from AIDS in Romania. Since then the budget has grown from $45,000 a year to $18 million a year and the scope has expanded worldwide. The Baylor program has around 10,000 children under its care, providing medications to about half of them. Funding for drugs, clinics and equipment has come from UNICEF, private foundations and local governments.

But Dr. Kline says there are still many more children with HIV the program has yet to reach.

"There are hundreds of thousands of children in need, but we have the tools and we have the expertise to do this," noted Dr. Kline. "It is just a matter of exhibiting the will and the commitment to make it happen."

An estimated 2.3 million children in the world are infected with the HIV virus that causes AIDS. According to the Global AIDS Alliance, children represent about four percent of the overall population of people being treated for HIV on the planet, but they account for more than 18 percent of the annual deaths from AIDS worldwide.