AIDS and Children: The Best Way to Help is to Keep Their Parents Alive
Editors note: Op-Ed by William Fleming, as it ran in
the Dec. 7th edition of the Raleigh, North Carolina News & Observer
During a recent trip to India I met with a group of 30 adults living with
HIV. We sat in a circle discussing the challenges they face living with the
disease in rural India.
As we talked, many of the adults briefly diverted
their attention to care for their young, squirming children. It is their
children who are their main focus in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
many of the adults are taking anti-retroviral drugs, nearly two-thirds raised
their hands, a testimony to India's efforts to expand treatment and care
services into the rural areas. However, when I asked about the adults' greatest
needs, there was no mention of drugs or treatments.
Again and again they
voiced concerns for their children. They wanted to know, "What will happen to
them when we grow sick or die?"
These parents understand very well the
increasing risks -- both health and non-health-related -- facing their
More than 15 million children have lost one or both parents to
AIDS, and millions more have been made vulnerable. The number of orphans created
by the disease is expected to increase globally through 2025, representing a
second wave of the epidemic.
As households cope with caring for a sick
family member, children often bear the brunt of rapidly dwindling resources in
the form of withdrawal from school, less to eat and often exploitative and
dangerous work to help support their families. Suddenly the children find
themselves thrust into the parent role, creating child-headed households. It is
a battle we have only begun to fight.
And while some children are orphaned
by AIDS, millions are fighting the disease themselves. The U.N.'s recently
released 2007 AIDS Epidemic Update highlights some important gains for children.
Although the total number of children living with HIV has increased from 1.5
million in 2001 to 2.5 million in 2007, the number of new infections in 2007
dropped from 460,000 in 2001 to 420,000. Deaths among children have also begun
to decline after peaking in 2005. These are important signs of progress, but
they are small steps and only mask a much larger epidemic.
AFRICA, CCF IS WORKING WITH YOUTH as key partners in the response to
the AIDS epidemic. In Kenya, youth tutors provide support and mentorship to
vulnerable children struggling to stay in school while coping with loss and
illness in the home. Youth in Zambia are managing an Internet cafe that provides
information on AIDS and sexually transmitted infections as well as referrals to
youth-friendly health services. Networks of youth centers in Uganda implement
action plans that include AIDS prevention and economic development activities.
Christian Children's Fund's partnership with youth reflects our respect for the
right of all individuals to participate in their own development.
to commit ourselves to meeting the challenge of caring for children affected by
AIDS. To do this, we need to rapidly scale up care and treatment for people
living with HIV, with an emphasis on prevention of parent-to-child transmission
and care for women living with HIV. Parents provide the best care and protection
for their children, and keeping parents alive is the best solution. For orphans
and children living with infected parents, programs promoting high-quality
education, primary health care and nutrition, as well as social inclusion and
emotional care for children, are all critical elements of an effective
The women and men in rural India are benefiting from expanded
care and treatment services but are living examples of the challenges that
remain. Their concern should be our concern. HIV/AIDS can't be fought with drugs
and treatment alone. Together with these courageous parents, we need to provide
an answer for their concerns. We must care for the children.
The good news
is we are making progress, but this is no time to let up. The lives of millions
of children hang in the balance.
William Fleming, who grew up in Raleigh
and graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill, has worked on HIV/AIDS and health programs
for more than 10 years. He is now the CCF's HIV/AIDS program specialist.