UNICEF call for care, support and education for Aids orphans worldwide

Stopping the disease before it starts is the developing world's only hope of averting catastrophe
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Children are the invisible victims of the global Aids epidemic. By the end of the century, 13 million will have lost their mother or both parents to the disease and 10.4 million will still be under 15. Africa, where most of the deaths have occurred, is becoming a nation of orphans.

Children are the invisible victims of the global Aids epidemic. By the end of the century, 13 million will have lost their mother or both parents to the disease and 10.4 million will still be under 15. Africa, where most of the deaths have occurred, is becoming a nation of orphans.

Stopping the disease before it starts is the developing world's only hope of averting catastrophe. Care, support and education for the world's Aids orphans is key to winning the battle in the 21st century, according to a report by UNICEF published today (WED) to mark World Aids Day.

An estimated 16.3 million people have died of Aids since the epidemic began, most in sub-Saharan Africa, most in the prime of life and many already parents. Once HIV has infected one parent it is soon transmitted to the other and the children then face the ordeal of watching their parents die. Many lose everything that once offered them comfort, hope and security for the future.

The distress and isolation the orphaned children feel at the loss of their parents is exacerbated by the stigma that attaches to the illness. Girls, in particular, may be denied their inheritance and property increasing their vulnerability to unprotected or co-ercive sex.

Ignorance is one of the greatest risks. More than one third of girls aged 15 to 19 could not name a single way to protect themselves from Aids and almost one third did not know that a healthy looking persen could have HIV or Aids,Êaccording to a survey in Kenya in 1998.

Girls become infected at a younger age than boys because they are biologically, socially and economically more vulnerable. In Africa, girls aged 15-19 are eight times more likely to be infected than boys their own age. By their early 20s HIV infected women still outnumber men threefold.

One country that is seen to have made real progress against Aids - Uganda - has yet to see the full impact opf the epidemic on its children. By the end of 1997, 1.1 million children under 15 had been orphaned by Aids but this figure is set to grow for at least the next decade, despite a levelling off in new infections, because deaths rise in line with the rise in infections five to ten years ago.

Uganda and the neighbouring countries of Botswana, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe, have taken the first tentative steps to dealing with the huge number of orphans in their countries, establishing schemes to provide them with care and protection in the hope of securing the health of the next generation. The Unicef report says although many of the projects are small scale and in their early stages they offer lessons to other countries on the way forward.

Ignorance about the risks of HIV infection is not confined to the developing world. In Britain, a report by the Health Education Authority published today found more than one in ten 16-18 year olds thought, wrongly, that Aids could be cured. All were too young to remember the Aids campaigns of the 1980s and most considered HIV was irrelevant to people of their age. As a result they choose not to use condoms.

Latest figures show 30,000 people are HIV positive in Britain with 10,000 unaware that they are infected. The number living with the infection has increased 30 per cent in three years following the discovery of new drug cocktails that keep the illness at bay. Their expense, however - at $8,000 US dollars a head a year - puts them beyond the reach of most in the developing world.

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