Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Talking about AIDS and Children

By Sarah A. Roush, program associate for CCF

Today’s speech at the International AIDS Conference was given by Dr. Linda Richter, executive director of Child, Youth, Family and Social Development at the Human Sciences Research Council. As Linda noted to thunderous applause, this was the first time that a plenary speech at the International AIDS Conference had ever addressed the needs of children affected by AIDS.

Dr. Richter began by demonstrating the ways in which children have been left behind in the response to the global AIDS epidemic. Last year, 370,000 children were infected with HIV and 250,000 died from HIV-related illnesses. Only 10 percent of the 2 million children currently living with HIV are on anti-retroviral therapy. Additionally, more than 12 million children lost one or more parents to AIDS in 2007.

She went on to discuss the problems related to focusing only on providing services to children rather than focusing on support to strengthen the ability for families and communities to care for vulnerable children. About 60 percent of children in southern Africa live in poverty, but as of 2007 only 15 percent of households supporting orphans and vulnerable children receive aid. In fact, families assume 90 percent of the cost associated with caring for children affected by HIV. For already vulnerable families this means that there is less money available for food, health care and education.

Because families are the most influential support for children and adolescents, Dr. Richter urged the global community to place greater emphasis on family-focused prevention, treatment and care and to develop comprehensive and integrated family-centered services. She closed the session by noting that “all children, including those affected by HIV and AIDS, are best cared for in functional families with basic income security, access to health care and education and support from kin and community.”

These words resonate deeply for me, because CCF has long been a proponent of family-based interventions, recognizing the critical role that families play in the healthy development of children. CCF will continue play an active role in carrying forward this dialogue around the needs of vulnerable children and communities affected by AIDS.

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