Note from the Field: Children and AIDS -- the Consequences for Africa
Johannesburg, South Africa
January 17, 2011
Dr. Joseph Essombo, Country Director, Côte d’Ivoire, and
Maurice Adams. (Photo: EGPAF)
At the start of a new year, many of us reflect on the past and consider what the future might bring. At the beginning of 2011, I enter my eighth year with the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. It’s been a period of dramatic growth for us, and I’ve seen the positive impact of our work for countless children and mothers, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.
So, at the beginning of this new year, I gave some thought as to why the Foundation does what it does, why we are committed to the prevention of pediatric HIV transmission, and why we are so involved in Africa?
The effects of AIDS are everywhere, and in no place is this witnessed more than in sub-Saharan Africa. Wherever I travel and with whomever I talk, I am reminded of the devastation wrought by this disease. Everyone knows someone who has died of AIDS. And the latest UNAIDS figures give us a clear indication as to why sub-Saharan Africa is such an important region for us, especially for children and women:
- Worldwide, there are 33.3 million adults and children living with AIDS, 22.5 million in sub-Saharan Africa.
- Of the 1.8 million worldwide deaths in 2009 due to AIDS, 1.3 million were in sub-Saharan Africa. Children under 15 account for more than 14% of AIDS-related deaths worldwide.
- More than 1,000 children become infected with HIV each day – the vast majority through mother-to-child transmission, which can occur in the womb, during birth, or through breastfeeding.
- More than 90% of the 2.5 million children living with HIV were born in Africa.
- Each country is affected differently, but young women in sub-Saharan Africa are up to eight times more likely than men to be HIV-positive, and life expectancy has been dramatically shortened around the world.
So why does AIDS affect entire families, communities, and nations, beyond the individuals who are infected? Simply put, this disease targets the ‘producers’ and ‘reproducers’ of a society. The young and the old are left to survive.
Income is lost but health (and death) expenses increase. Children who survive often cannot go to school as they take on ‘head of household’ responsibilities. There was a time that children had the security of parents, grandparents, aunties, and uncles. This is no longer the case.
More than 16 million children under age 18 have lost one or both parents to AIDS, and countless children have become responsible for the care of their siblings and other family members when parents are debilitated by poor health.
Many children are desperate for food, a home, and love. Many children would do anything to receive such basic needs. And because of this, many children are forced into hazardous lifestyles. The rupturing of family and community life – as well as the stigma around the disease – causes social, economic, and political vulnerability. This breakdown of basic societal support systems takes a toll on families, communities, villages, and ultimately entire countries.
Yes, the work of the Foundation is about saving the lives of mothers and children. But it is much more than that. It is about being part of a group of individuals and organizations committed to restoring the wealth, health, and dignity for a generation, and more generations to come.
Children are the hope of a country’s future. Worldwide, children make up a third of the population, and more children are born each year in Africa than are born in the Americas, all of Europe, and Japan put together.
It has been said that a million deaths is a statistic, a single death a tragedy. The work we do, and the impact we have, cannot be reduced to just statistics. I am convinced that there are many millions of African mothers and their children who are very grateful for the life-saving interventions that the Foundation has provided, and the hope offered as they too start their new year.
Maurice Adams is the Foundation’s Vice President for Africa Management based in South Africa.