Watoto Wote Wazuri

World AIDS Day

Posted in AIDS in Africa, AIDS Orphans, world AIDS day by Lynn Ouellette on 12/01/2009

World AIDS Day was first established by the World Health Organization in 1988 and takes place annually on December 1st. I decided at some point that I would post an entry that would be educational about AIDS, especially the impact on children in Sub Saharan Africa and decided posting it today would be particularly fitting. The symbol for World AIDS day is the red ribbon, a large one of which hangs on the White House in Washington today. This day is a time for governments, organizations, and communities to come together and reevaluate and recommit to the needs of people with AIDs worldwide. The United States has a program, PEPFAR, the Presidents Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief launched in 2003, the largest commitment ever by a single nation toward an international health initiative — a comprehensive approach to combating HIV/AIDS around the world. UNAIDS is a joint United Nations program to address the AIDS epidemic. Despite this and many other programs, the AIDS epidemic has continued to grow and millions have died.

Since the AIDS epidemic first began in 1981, over 25 million people have died of AIDS. Today over 33 million people are living with HIV/AIDS and 2/3 of those people live in Sub Saharan Africa.  AIDS, a disease that weakens the body’s immune system,   is caused by HIV, a virus that can be transmitted sexually,  through blood products, in utero and through breast milk. Although there are certain high risk groups,  the overwhelming majority of transmission of the virus is through heterosexual contact. There is no cure for AIDS and unlike many other viruses, there is no vaccine for HIV. There is much known about how to prevent and treat AIDS. Averting sexual transmission involves encouraging safer sexual behavior including delayed first sex, partner reduction and condom use. The spread of HIV through drug injections can be slowed by outreach work, needle exchange and drug substitution treatment. Mother-to-child transmission can be almost eliminated through use of medication and avoidance of breastfeeding through the substitution of formula.  Treatment with antiretroviral drugs (ARVS) for people who have the HIV virus can help them to stay healthy and live productively for many years. However, only a very small minority of people have access to the necessary education, prevention tools and the necessary treatment.

In 2007, 1 in 7 of the 2.9 million people who died of AIDS was a child. About 95% of the 13 million children who have been orphaned because of AIDS live in Africa. By 2010 it is expected that one third of all African children will be orphaned. As you can see,  this set of facts of figures is staggering. But the numbers only begin to convey the magnitude of the problem by identifying who has died or is orphaned, without really conveying the scale of the individual suffering of child who has been orphaned because of AIDs.

Prior to becoming orphaned a child has been living with an increasingly ill parent and often has been caring for that parent. They have begun to suffer neglect and had to take over adult responsibilities like caring for siblings and contributing financially to the household. Many have had to drop out of school.  They may continue to live with the surviving parent, but often that parent eventually becomes ill and dies as well. At the time of dealing with their grief over losing their parents they are also left without anyone to care for their basic needs and are burdened with the shame of the stigma that comes with having AIDS in the family.

You can see the video update on AIDS by  Keven DeCock, The CDC Director for AIDS in Kenya on CNN News here: http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/world/2009/11/25/impact.kevin.decock.cnn

Or learn more about HIV and AIDS in Africa here: http://www.avert.org/aids-hiv-africa.htm

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