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French Version

Children are 'invisible face of AIDS' says UNICEF

Fund warns potential epidemics overlooked in MENA

Every minute of every day a child dies of AIDS but only 5 percent of those infected have access to life-preserving drugs, UNICEF, the UN Children's Fund, said on Tuesday in launching a new campaign.

UNICEF also warned of potential epidemics being overlooked in the Middle East and North Africa because of cultural inhibitions against discussing sexual and reproductive health.

Appealing for more funds for children with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, Ann Veneman, executive director of UNICEF, hoped the world would spend $33 billion over the next five years from existing commitments and additional funds.

"Nearly 25 years into the pandemic, this very visible disease continues to have an invisible face and that is the face of the child," Veneman told a news conference on the eve of the campaign, "Unite for Children, Unite Against AIDS."

"A whole generation of young people today has never known a world free of HIV and AIDS," she said. "It is a disease that has redefined their childhood forcing them to grow up alone too fast, or sadly sometimes not at all."

In order to prevent the spread of the disease among adolescents, especially young women, Veneman said education was crucial.

"They cannot protect themselves if they do not know the facts," she said.

The campaign, which includes Dr. Peter Piot, the head of UNAIDS, the UN coordinating group, aims at treating children with antiretroviral drugs and preventing pregnant women from transmitting the virus.

More than 39 million people, most of them in Africa, are living with the disease, despite $8 billion in anticipated spending this year, Piot said earlier this year. He said only 12 percent of adults and children who needed treatment were getting it.

While children in sub-Saharan Africa accounted for more than 85 percent of all youngsters under 15 living with the disease, the Middle East was still in denial, said Peter McDermott, head of UNICEF's HIV/AIDS section.

But he said Djibouti and Iran were taking the lead in combating the pandemic and the campaign would be launched at an upcoming Islamic conference in Rabat, Morocco.

Brazil, which has the most successful anti-AIDS program among developing nations, partly because of its production of generic drugs, was sharing its expertise and providing drugs to other nations, he said.

Veneman added that countries should follow the example of Ireland, which just announced it would dedicate to children 20 percent of the funds it was contributing to global AIDS campaigns.

The stories of deprived children are legion. On her way to school in Lesotho, Reitumetse Phooko passes a boy pushing his father to the AIDS clinic in a wheelbarrow because he is too ill to walk, she told Reuters in London.

The boy is just 7 years old and he has already lost his mother to the disease that has deprived 15 million children of one or both parents. There is no one to help him.

Beirut,11 01 2005
The Daily Star
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