EGPAF Takes a Stand at United Nations Side Event
Despite the very welcome news this week that a child in Mississippi was cured of HIV—and we hope that this leads to huge advances in pediatric HIV treatment—30 years into the HIV epidemic, children are still generally being left behind in the HIV response.
The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) is encouraged that a group meeting in Switzerland this month are being reminded that the needs of children living with HIV cannot be forgotten. World leaders, diplomats and NGO representatives are gathering in what is one of the most important meetings to discuss human rights globally. The UN Human Rights Council meets three times a year in Geneva and is responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the world. During the March session, the issue of children’s health rights is high on the agenda, providing EGPAF with an opportunity to advocate on behalf of the more than 3.4 million children living with HIV.
About 230,000 children died from AIDS-related illness in 2011 alone—that is 630 every day. These children are dying needlessly because we have the science and the medicine to prevent their deaths.
The fact is, the rate of children receiving HIV treatment is lagging far behind that for adults. In 2011, ARVS were available to 57 percent of adults who required them, but only 28 percent of children in need.
It is for this reason that EGPAF decided to hold a side event during this important UN Human Rights Council session to let participants know about the urgency of scaling up access by children to HIV treatment.
Panelists at the event tackled the issue from various angles. Foundation Global Ambassador Josephine Nabukenya spoke about her experience growing up HIV-positive. Talking about her life as an example of what a young person with HIV can do when they are on treatment and have hope for the future, she asked the audience to fight for kids like her to ensure that all children are able to access treatment like she did.
Dr. Karusa Kiragu, UNAIDS’ Senior Prevention Advisor, gave an overview of the situation for children living with HIV, and presented some stark figures demonstrating the very large disparities in access to treatment in many countries. She said that the inequity between adults and children accessing ART is glaring and is “reflective of where we as a society are failing.”
Mr. Moses Rugema, from Rwanda’s Mission to the UN, explained what the Rwandan government is doing on the ground to try to improve access to HIV treatment, including the wide range of treatment programs available in his country. He admitted that there is still much more to do, noting challenges around health care workforce and increasing patient access to health care facilities, but he assured the audience that the government is committed to making sure that more children in Rwanda are able to access treatment and care services.
Finola Finnan from the Catholic HIV/AIDS Network spoke about the importance of creating partnerships with faith-based organizations that have a strong presence in some of the countries with lowest rates of treatment for children. She stressed the need for advocacy in keeping HIV firmly on the agenda and the need for more child-friendly diagnostics and drugs if we really want to improve identification and treatment for HIV-infected children.
Finally, Dr. Michael Johnson from the Office of the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator and Permanent Mission of the U.S. to the UN in Geneva spoke about the emphasis that PEPFAR has placed on preventing mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) — reminding the audience that PEPFAR actually started as a PMTCT initiative. He also explained the disparities in access to testing and treatment between the United States and sub-Saharan Africa, saying that the dramatic decrease in the number of infections of American children is what we need to see in Africa. He also highlighted the need for strengthening health systems and greater community engagement.
We were pleased that attendance at the event was high and that event participants were so engaged in the issue. If the world is serious about achieving an AIDS-free generation, we must begin with serious discussions about the disparity in treatment access by children. It is unacceptable that just over a quarter are receiving the care and treatment they need to stay alive and healthy.
Eliane Drakopoulos is Public Policy and Advocacy Officer for the Foundation, based in Geneva, Switzerland.