The United Nations Children's Fund is welcoming a large donation from Britain expressly to support programs for children in Zimbabwe, and is urging other donor nations not to withhold aid because they disagree with the Zimbabwean government's policies. UNICEF says Zimbabwean children, especially HIV/AIDS orphans, are in dire straits, and need international support.
UNICEF spokesman Damien Personnaz says children in Zimbabwe face some of the worst hardships anywhere.
"A child is orphaned every 20 minutes in Zimbabwe," he said. "Every 20 minutes, a child dies of AIDS, and one in eight children die before the age of five, compared with one in 13 children 15 years ago. And three infants, three babies become infected with HIV/AIDS every hour."
Not only that, UNICEF reports, almost one-in-three children in Zimbabwe, or 1.6 million, are now orphaned, often because one or both parents died of HIV/AIDS.
Personnaz says the lives of children have dramatically worsened because of AIDS, although he notes it is worse in neighboring countries, such as Botswana, Swaziland, Namibia and areas of South Africa. Earlier this year, UNICEF reported Zimbabwe had recorded a significant decline in HIV cases, but for that trend to continue, the agency said, youth programs to fight HIV/AIDS must continue to get support.
The U.N. agency says Britain's donation of $35 million is the largest ever to UNICEF in Zimbabwe, and will be used to help improve the health, education, and nutrition of the country's orphans and other vulnerable children.
Personnaz says a little money can go a long way toward making life better for Zimbabwe's children.
"The only difference is that, because of the political setup, which is very specific to Zimbabwe, the donor community is basically extremely reluctant to give any money to this government for the time being," he explained. "Having said that, it is also a fact that, therefore, the economical downturn of the country hampers the (government's ability) to set up, I would say, decent basic social services for all these HIV/AIDS affected people, and including the orphans."