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UN Children's Forum Focuses on AIDS

HIV/AIDS experts say about half of all new infections today with the deadly AIDS virus occur among children. HIV/AIDS was the special focus of a three-day U.N. session on children in New York, which ended Friday.

Medical experts agree the statistics and demographics of HIV/AIDS are alarming. More than 2,000 children every day are becoming infected with the virus at birth or slightly after that, because their mothers are HIV-positive. About 6,000 children every day are also effected by AIDS, as one or both of their parents die of the infection. One-third of them are no more than five-years old. Slightly older siblings often find themselves as head of a household.

Dr. Peter Piot, executive-director of the U.N. program on AIDS, said HIV/AIDS is not just a young epidemic. It has become an epidemic of the young. And the losses are dramatic. Dr. Piot noted more people have been touched [affected] by AIDS in the African nation of Sierra Leone than by war in that country. "In Sierra Leone the civil war left 12-thousand children without families. AIDS in Sierra Leone has already orphaned five times that number," he said. "And when your father died in the war, he was a hero. When your father died of AIDS, you live with the shame, and the stigma and the discrimination that is associated with AIDS."

As another example, the president of Zambia told the U.N. meeting that over 40 percent of Zambian families today are caring for at least one orphan, and at least 15 percent of all children in Zambia have lost their parents to AIDS.

The final document emerging from the U.N. session on children highlights the need to fight HIV/AIDS. It is the first time AIDS has been included in a formal plan of action related to children.

Dr. Piot said that is a very significant achievement because making children aware of the disease and involving them in combating it makes a big difference. "In every single country, in every single community, where HIV has been brought under control or where there are less infections, it happened first in young people, be it in Cambodia, be it in Brazil, be it in Uganda. Young people. So success is possible," he said.

International experts on HIV/AIDS generally agree children must be educated about safe sex and encouraged to make responsible choices in their lives.