Uganda: A Generation of Children Without AIDS?
29/11/2010 - Most of the children with HIV/AIDS living in Uganda are infected by their mothers, despite the existence of effective treatment to prevent it.
With World AIDS Day a mere two days away, national governments, United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations across the globe are gearing up advocacy and public engagement efforts. Realizing human rights for people living with HIV/AIDS, decreasing prejudice and preventing new infections through greater awareness and funding are some key priorities.
According to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, about 2.1 million of the 33 million people living with HIV/AIDS around the world in 2008 were children aged 15 or younger. Most children with HIV (about 90%) were infected by their mothers, who passed it down during pregnancy, labour and delivery or through breastfeeding.
In Uganda, the number of women receiving medication to prevent mother-to-child-transmission (MTCT) of HIV has increased dramatically since the start of the new millennium. But, while the absolute number of pediatric infections has fallen since the mid-1990s, the decline has slowed and stabilized over the past five years.
According to the Uganda Pediatrics Association, Uganda is home to 110,000 HIV-positive children under the age of 15. Each year, MTCT is the main reason behind most of Uganda’s 25,000 new pediatric HIV infections. In other words, children represented 20% of the country’s 123,000 new infections last year.
A particular affront to child rights is that less than half of HIV-positive Ugandan children (42%) are getting access to the anti-retroviral medication that they need—as compared to 61% of adults. Those most likely to have access to medical treatment and medication live in the capital city of Kampala, leaving much of the population—especially those in rural areas—marginalized.
Children with HIV face all the same stigmas that adults do. Fear and misunderstandings about the virus can lead to severe social exclusion that prevents children from being able to socialize with other children, attend school or even access local health facilities. Too often, they are robbed of the childhoods they should otherwise have enjoyed.
Children are also made vulnerable when their parents—particularly their mothers—die of AIDS-related diseases. Globally, there are 17.5 million AIDS orphans, most of them living in sub-Saharan Africa.
But, with a real and sustained commitment to the prevention of MTCT—and a scaling up of prevention programs—an entire generation of children born free of HIV/AIDS is within reach.