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UNICEF, Private Group Join Forces to Combat AIDS

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the nonprofit organization, Family Health International (FHI), have joined forces to help women and children in five countries to combat AIDS. From VOA's New York Bureau, Mona Ghuneim reports.

Aid workers say access to testing and treatment, social stigma, drug costs, and lack of staff at health facilities continue to be impediments in the global struggle against AIDS. UNICEF and FHI say that they are especially concerned with the health of women and children, and their new partnership will focus on helping them. At first, the joint venture will be implemented in Guyana, India, Malawi, Nigeria and Zambia.

FHI Chairman Albert Siemens says joining forces with UNICEF will pay special attention to preventing mother-to-child transmission and improving pediatric HIV care. "Today's 'memo of understanding' clearly demonstrates both organizations' firm commitment to help overcome the very limited reach we currently have globally in helping mothers and babies access needed prevention and treatment services," he said.

Siemens says access to care in rural areas is a major obstacle and the aid programs that the two groups will implement will focus on remote locations.

UNICEF director Alan Court says there is a large gap in access to AIDS care between urban and rural communities. "These are the kinds of bridging that we need to do so when we talk about this partnership -- looking for innovations to overcome the bottlenecks. One such bottleneck is how do you help rural women access these facilities," he said.

Siemens says that, even when women and children do gain access to a facility, they come across what he says is the biggest challenge in fighting the AIDS epidemic in developing countries, lack of facilities human resources. He says he recently visited a clinic in Ethiopia that was run by only one doctor.

"He's the only physician now having to deal with 150 people on treatment, and deal with all those who are coming to the clinic everyday to be tested," he said.

Siemens and Court say they will work together to bridge UNICEF's program implementation knowledge with FHI's technical and management expertise.