A radiant smile lights up Agness Chabu’s face as she cuddles Lackson, her 23-month-old son at home in Zambia. Agnes has good reason to feel joyful. She and her son have gone through many months of care to protect the little boy from mother-to-child HIV transmission during pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding. Now, health workers have confirmed that Lackson is free of the virus.
Stories like theirs are increasingly common as people throughout the developing world benefit from growing access to HIV care, treatment and support. On World AIDS Day, marked across the globe on 1 December, we will celebrate those successes, raise awareness about the HIV and AIDS epidemic, and look toward the work that remains to be done.
Progress for Children
Great progress has been made since World AIDS Day was first observed in 1988, but only in recent years have steps been taken to account for the special needs of infants, children, adolescents and young people affected by the epidemic.
In 2005, UNICEF launched its “Unite for Children, Unite against AIDS” Campaign to bring children to the center of the HIV response. Today, children are firmly integrated into the global effort to roll back the epidemic. But too many are still affected by the virus, with hundreds of thousands of new infections worldwide among children in 2010 alone. Most occurred in sub-Saharan Africa, the region hit hardest by HIV.
On this year’s World AIDS Day, the Unite Campaign marks its extension through 2015 and sets out a new agenda. Its goal is nothing less than an AIDS-free generation. Two prevention-based campaign targets for 2015, based on a UNAIDS global agreement reached earlier this year, support that objective:
- Eliminate new HIV infections among children
- Halve new HIV infections among young people
A Broad Mission
Prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV — the medical and counselling intervention that kept Lackson from becoming infected — is one of the most effective ways to safeguard children from the virus.
However, it’s even more efficient to keep their mothers from acquiring HIV in the first place. That’s why the target of halving new infections among young people by 50% is so important. Progress is already evident and behavioural changes that reduce HIV risk offer one example. In countries with sufficient data to track such trends, fewer young men say they have multiple partners, more young people say they’ve used condoms during high-risk sex, and a decreasing number report having sex before age 15.
But UNICEF’s work toward reducing the epidemic’s impact goes beyond prevention alone. The organization also supports continued care for children already infected with HIV, as well as protection through cash grants, legislation and other means for those affected by the epidemic.
A Challenging Time
With the world in the grip of the economic crisis, finding the resources needed to maintain progress is harder than ever.
It would be easy at such a moment to once again relegate children to the margins of the AIDS response. But the “Unite for Children, Unite against AIDS”is working to remind governments, donors and the public that we’ve come too far to give up now. In fact, funding cuts are less cost-effective in the long run, as governments are responsible for maintaining a lifetime of costly care for each newly infected child.
The benefits of staying on course, even in the face of the downturn, can be measured life by life. Babies like Lackson and mothers like Agness are depending on all of us to ensure that they’re not overlooked. They offer one example of what’s been achieved since the first World AIDS Day back in 1988, and how much more we can still accomplish by working together.