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The world must strive towards elimination of new HIV infections among babies and keep mothers and children living with HIV alive. Credits: Hough/Caritas

The world must strive towards elimination of new HIV infections among babies and keep mothers and children living with HIV alive.
Credits: Hough/Caritas

On World AIDS Day 2011, Caritas Internationalis says it is unjust that more than 800 children are dying each day of AIDS-related diseases. Such deaths continue to occur because these children have no access to early diagnosis of HIV or to child-friendly medicines to treat infection with this virus. By the end of 2010, experts estimated that only 21% of children living with HIV had access to the medicines they desperately need in order to stay alive beyond their second birthday.

Citing reports released by UNAIDS in November 2011, Rev. Msgr. Robert Vitillo, Special Advisor on HIV and AIDS for Caritas Internationalis, says, “1000 children in poor countries still are being born daily with HIV. Both HIV and TB are diseases that are almost entirely preventable. By the end of 2010, only 48% of pregnant women living with HIV had access to anti-retroviral treatment to keep themselves healthy and to prevent the spread of HIV to their babies.”

Despite numerous governmental declarations and commitments in response to HIV and AIDS, pregnant women and children living with HIV and HIV/TB co-infection are still left behind. Caritas insists that all children and women have the right to timely diagnosis and should be able to gain access to appropriate treatment and care. Pressure on governments and pharmaceutical companies is needed in order to make this possible.

Caritas launched the HAART for Children campaign in 2009 to urge the United Nations, governments and pharmaceutical companies to ensure the right to health of children living with HIV and TB and of HIV-positive mothers.

HAART stands for Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy: the combination of medicines that help prolong the lives of both children and adults living with HIV. These medicines also help to prevent mother-to-child transmission of the virus.

The campaign calls on governments and pharmaceutical companies:

  • To develop and provide child-friendly HIV and TB medicine, especially for infants;
  • To further develop low cost and low technology testing methods to diagnose these infections in children;
  • And to scale up programmes aimed at preventing the transmission of HIV from HIV-positive mothers to their babies, during pregnancy, labour, delivery or breastfeeding.

While some progress has been made, much more action is needed. There is a global consensus that the world must strive towards elimination of new HIV infections among babies and keep mothers and children living with HIV alive. More children are diagnosed with HIV earlier, but due to fear of stigma and discrimination, their parents might avoid collecting the test results or might not enrol infected children for treatment. Other children still face obstacles in timely initiation of antiretroviral therapy (ART). A fairly wide range of choices is available to treat adult HIV infections, but many of these medicines have not been adapted for use with infants and young children.

The Caritas Campaign has enlisted partners on all continents to raise public awareness about the plight of children living with HIV and TB infections, to demand effective action from governmental health officials, and to call on pharmaceutical companies to put the lives and future of children above the exclusive search for profit during this public health emergency.