Officials at an international AIDS conference in London are warning that within the next four years 18 million children in sub-Saharan Africa will be orphaned by the AIDS pandemic. The conference has attracted more than 150 health experts and government officials from Asia, Africa, the Americas, and Europe.
The conference is sponsored by the U.N. Children's Fund, the U.N. AIDS agency, and Britain's Department for International Development.
The aim is to focus attention on the plight of the two million children infected by the HIV virus that causes AIDS, and the millions more who have lost parents to the disease.
The executive director of UNICEF, Ann Veneman, says children have largely been forgotten in the world's struggle against AIDS.
"Children are the missing face in the AIDS pandemic," Veneman said. "Every minute of every day a child under the age of 15 years old dies of HIV and AIDS. There are also 15 million orphans that are children who have lost one or both parents to AIDS, this a creating a tremendous problem in the highest prevalence countries, particularly those in southern Africa."
Health experts say the number of African AIDS orphans will grow to 18 million by 2010, a 20 percent increase in just four years.
The chief of the U.N. AIDS agency, Peter Piot, says the pandemic is comparable to global warming in terms of its impact and challenge to societies.
"It is not enough to have technology, it is not enough to have the medical approach, you need to take care of the stigma, the women, the whole complex issues around AIDS which makes it so difficult and totally unique from any other disease," Piot said.
Britain's undersecretary for international development, Gareth Thomas, says the London conference will emphasize the need for lower prices for the drugs that can suppress HIV in children.
"We are very concerned about the high cost of children's anti-retroviral drugs in comparison to adult anti-retroviral drugs," Thomas said. "Prices tend to be about six times greater by way of comparison."
Experts say that means an adult can be treated for as little as 50 cents a day, while it costs $3 to give a child the same medications.
Other conference themes address the prevention of mother-to-child transmission, pediatric treatment of HIV and AIDS, prevention of infection among adolescents, and protection and support for children orphaned by the pandemic.