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UNICEF Reports Progress Against HIV/AIDS

A new report by the U.N. Children's Fund finds signs of progress in meeting the needs of children affected by HIV/AIDS more than a year after a global campaign was launched to focus attention on the plight of AIDS-affected children. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

The United Nations estimates 2.3 million children under age 15 are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. More than 15 million children under 18 have lost one or both parents to AIDS.

Despite these grim statistics, the U.N. Children's Fund says AIDS is not perceived as a young people's disease.

UNICEF communications officer, Patrick McCormick, says 25 years into the AIDS epidemic children, including babies, remain at grave risk. But he says few people recognize AIDS as a disease of the young.

"That was just not on the agenda. It was not in peoples' thinking. This was a disease of early 20s, late 20s," he said. "It was a disease of sex workers, of truck drivers. Even if there were 15 million AIDS orphans wandering around, it still was not perceived as something which was affecting children, young people."

Because so little attention was focused on the plight of children affected by AIDS, UNICEF and its partners launched the Unite for Children, Unite Against AIDS campaign in October 2005. The aim was to highlight the so-called missing face of the child in the AIDS pandemic.

More than a year after the start of this campaign, UNICEF says attention finally is being paid to children and their needs. The campaign is focused on ensuring treatment for HIV-positive children, on prevention of mother-to-child transmission, and on assisting children who have been orphaned by AIDS.

The report finds some high-prevalence countries in Eastern and Southern Africa have achieved breakthroughs in preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV. But, huge gaps remain. Despite the gains, the report says only nine percent of pregnant women in poor countries receive this treatment.

UNICEF's Patrick McCormick says a similar situation exists for the estimated 780,000 children living with HIV/AIDS.

"Ten percent of the children at present have access to that sort of treatment because the drug companies do not make child formulations in the right quantity and/or they are not getting out in isolated places, very often. Or the country does not have the medical staff to follow the treatment," he said.

The report notes that more countries are specifically targeting prevention programs toward adolescents and young people. It says new evidence suggests HIV prevalence is declining in Kenya, in urban areas of Ivory Coast, Malawi and Zimbabwe, and in rural areas of Botswana. This it says is a result of young people adopting safer sexual behavior.