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AIDS Fight Overlooks Young, Study Says

The World

Less than 5% of children with HIV have access to life-saving drugs, U.N. agencies report.

October 25, 2005|Robyn Dixon | Times Staff Writer

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Children have been overlooked in the global fight against AIDS, officials with the United Nations warned today as they released a report saying that less than 5% of HIV-positive children have access to lifepreserving drugs.

An estimated 15 million children worldwide have lost at least one parent to AIDS, and only 10% of those children receive help from government or aid agencies, according to UNICEF, which released the report.

UNICEF and UNAIDS are launching a campaign aimed at providing children with antiretroviral drugs and other treatment for HIV and AIDS, preventing pregnant women from transmitting the virus to unborn children, reducing the number of young people who become infected and helping children already affected by the virus.

Fewer than 1 in 10 HIVpositive women get treatment to help prevent the virus from being transmitted to their children.

"We are saying that children are missing from the global AIDS agenda. The face of AIDS now is becoming the face of a child," Nora Godwin, New York-based deputy director of UNICEF communications, said in Johannesburg.

The global cost of meeting the objectives is estimated at $6 billion a year from 2006 to 2010, expected to come from governments and private donors.

The vast majority of child deaths from acquired immune deficiency syndrome occur in sub-Saharan Africa: 450,000 of the 510,000 children who died of the virus in 2004, according to the report. Fewer than 300 children died of AIDS in highincome countries last year.

Each day, 1,400 children under 15 die of AIDS-related illness, according to the report. Last year, more than 2 million young people ages 16 to 24 were infected with the human immunodeficiency virus.

"The needs of children are being overlooked when strategies on HIV prevention and treatment are drafted, policies made and budgets allocated," the report says. "And investments in prevention continue to be pitifully inadequate."

Antiretroviral drugs for children cost four to eight times more than those for adults, UNICEF officials note, further limiting the availability of medication for young people. In June 2005, only half a million people of all ages were receiving such drugs in sub-Saharan Africa, a region where 25.4 million people are infected, according to UNAIDS, a coalition of U.N. agencies.

Sarah Crowe, a UNICEF spokeswoman in Johannesburg, said pediatric antiretroviral drugs cost more because of perceived lack of demand.

"Pharmaceutical companies are beginning to see there's a market out there and are starting to produce them," she said.

But children rarely receive even some cheaper medications that can save lives, such as cotrimoxazole, an antibacterial agent that prevents infections such as pneumonia that often kill AIDS patients.

The drug can cost as little as three cents a day and could cut in half the number of children dying of AIDS-related illness. Yet less than 1% of the 4 million infected children get cotrimoxazole, according to the report.

The report notes the alarming effect of HIV and AIDS on child mortality in African countries, many of which have already been hard hit by cyclical drought, causing widespread hunger, and deaths from preventable illnesses such as malaria. In Swaziland, for example, 143 children in every thousand never reach the age of 5, a number that would be reduced to 72.9 if not for AIDS, the report says.

UNICEF has launched a program to analyze the severity of the effect of HIV on children in 16 African countries and develop national action plans. Ten more African nations have since been asked to join.

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