'Tidal wave' of AIDS orphans rising

By Shaoni Bhattacharya, Bangkok The world is facing a “mind-boggling” crisis of children orphaned as a result of AIDS, reveals a major international report. The most comprehensive analysis of orphans to date suggests that by 2010 sub-Saharan Africa will be home to 50 million orphans due to AIDS. Currently 12.3 million children have been orphaned by the virus in this region. “Parts of sub-Saharan Africa are undergoing a tidal wave of orphaning, in varying degrees due to AIDS,” said Carol Bellamy, executive director of UNICEF, at the launch of the report on Tuesday. “The most striking finding of this report is that the overall number of orphans worldwide would be falling were it not for the pandemic of HIV/AIDS. Overall, orphan numbers have dropped by a tenth since 1990,” she says. However, in some African countries as many as 20 per cent of all children are now orphans. In countries like Botswana and Zimbabwe, this is mainly due to AIDS. But in others like Rwanda, other causes like conflict, are mainly to blame. Bellamy says the enormous scale of orphaning in Africa will have huge consequences. “Unfortunately, we are talking about something truly destabilising societies, even more than the pandemic itself,” says Bellamy. “These children are the forgotten victims of this epidemic,” said Peter Piot, executive director of UNAIDS. The new study, based on estimates of orphans in 93 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, is a joint report by UNAIDS, UNICEF and USAID. It was launched at the XV International AIDS conference in Bangkok, Thailand. The document, endorsed by all UN agencies urges action to pull orphans and other vulnerable children “back from the brink”. Bellamy says there are “vast gaps” in what is being done for vulnerable children. Only 17 countries made the first step, in 2003, of producing national policies to help these children. Piot says that support for orphans must be an integral part of any AIDS programme. Another report, released at the conference on Monday, reveals that just 700,000 orphans worldwide received some kind of support from AIDS resources. Tuesday’s report recommends a framework for supporting orphans, including community based approaches to strengthen the caring capacity of extended families, access to education, and improved legal and policy changes – for example, to ensure they do not lose their inheritances. Piot notes that studies show children orphaned by AIDS are more likely to contract the disease themselves later in life. Bellamy adds that these children are more likely to be malnourished and to suffer a loss of knowledge from parents, such as how to farm crops. A previous World Bank report on South Africa suggests the orphan crisis will have a major economic impact, as these children may be less able to contribute to the labour force. The new orphans report uses a different methodology from previous “Children on the Brink” reports. Children under 18 are included instead of only those under 15. The term orphan due to AIDS refers to “a child who has at least one parent dead from AIDS”. The report did not include numbers other vulnerable children – such as those caring for a parent dying of AIDS. Data on AIDS orphans were used only for sub-Saharan Africa as the low prevalence in other regions of the world meant the data was not as reliable. More on these topics:
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