Children have been identified as the missing face and neglected victims of the HIV/Aids pandemic, a revelation that undermines hard-won gains in child survival in some of the countries most affected by HIV/Aids.
According to UNAIDS estimates, about 2.3 million children below 15 years of age were living with HIV in 2007. Nearly 90 percent of children infected with HIV, mainly through mother-to-child transmission, live in Sub-Saharan Africa, a region that continues to be most affected by the Aids pandemic.
According to Dr. Agnès Binagwaho, the Executive Secretary Rwanda National Aids Control Commission (CNLS), HIV is increasingly affecting the health and welfare of children, and if nothing is done, the battle against HIV/Aids could be lost.
“If we don’t focus on children we are going to lose the battle against HIV/Aids because these children will be the driving force of the epidemic in the next generation. Let’s put children at the centre of our intervention programmes, otherwise they won’t forgive us,” she told The New Times last week.
“Children are still neglected today the same way Aids was neglected seven years ago.,” she added.
Binagwaho further said that the Government of Rwanda, with the help of the International Centre for Aids Care and Treatment (ICAP), has taken a step to address this problem through a decentralized pediatric HIV care and treatment programme that was initiated in 2004, and here 500 children are receiving treatment.
“The Commission is also working with the Ministry of Gender to develop tools to help children living with HIV/Aids,” she noted.
In addition to HIV/Aids-related stigma, Binagwaho observed that inadequate paediatric HIV testing, treatment and counselling facilities continue to hinder efforts to identify and provide treatment for HIV positive children in the country.
She said efforts were ongoing to integrate HIV/Aids programmes in the country’s Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy (EDPRS).