Pediatric HIV Takes the Spotlight at 33rd UNAIDS Board Meeting

By Eliane Drakopoulos | December 19, 2013

UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé addressed the UNAIDS Programme Coordinating Board and gave an overview of the progress made in the AIDS response as well as the challenges ahead.

UNAIDS

On December 18, I represented the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) at the 33rd UNAIDS Programme Coordinating Board (PCB), which was held from December 17-19 in Geneva, Switzerland.

EGPAF submitted comments about a recently released UNAIDS report focused on the strategic use of antiretroviral medications. While the report brought several important issues regarding the use and distribution of ARVs to light, it lacked details on how to ensure that children living with HIV will also gain improved access to treatment. Currently, only 34 percent of HIV-positive children have access to the treatments they need to remain healthy. In order to achieve an AIDS-free generation, we must focus on this often neglected population of people living with HIV.

You can read the full statement that was submitted to the PCB below.

Learn more about what the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) is doing to eliminate pediatric HIV here.

“Today, I will be speaking on behalf of probably the only vulnerable group that is not present in this room today, and most likely never will be.

EGPAF welcomes the UNAIDS report on the strategic use of ARVs, but notes with disappointment the lack of emphasis on children living with HIV. There are key gaps in the report when it comes to looking at the impact of HIV on children, and how to ensure their access to treatment. These are lost opportunities. For while there has recently, finally, been increasing recognition that children are being left behind in the HIV response—including in this report and during the recent ICASA conference in South Africa—there are still precious few concrete recommendations and strategies being put forward as to how to tackle this problem.

Simply saying that we must do better to ensure treatment for children living with HIV is not enough.

While we work toward our common goal of ending pediatric HIV, we cannot neglect the need to find and care for those falling through the cracks - whose mothers were missed, lost, or later infected.

We must study and determine what the specific barriers to such treatment are, and dismantle them, one by one. We must set specific, time-bound targets and stay accountable to them.

Countries like Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Rwanda, Namibia and Botswana are making great strides in scaling up PMTCT programs, identifying and treating children, and we must continue to support them in these efforts and study what they are doing right so that it can be replicated in other countries, as appropriate and relevant. But countries like Nigeria, the DRC, Angola and Cameroon are not doing as well. These countries can and MUST do better to ensure that their children are not excluded from the gains we are making in ensuring HIV prevention and treatment for those who need it, and we must all give them our support to do this.

The lives of hundreds of thousands of children depend on it—children who do not have their own voice in this room. Half of children born with HIV who do not receive treatment will die by their second birthdays – 80 percent will be dead before they reach the age of three. This is not just an issue of access, it is a matter of human rights, and one that must be addressed with urgency.

It is not only young children at risk here. Adolescents are dying at unprecedented rates. Our efforts to reach children must extend to those vulnerable young people who so often fall between the cracks, and in many cases don’t even realize they are infected.

EGPAF asks UNAIDS, its co-sponsors and PCB Member States to redouble their efforts to identify the specific reasons for the gross disparity in access to HIV treatment by children versus adults, to develop a strategic plan to tackle the barriers creating this disparity, and to set targets so that we can work towards ensuring that in the near future, ALL children who require HIV treatment are able to access it. EGPAF stands at the ready to cooperate in this endeavor in every way it can. We also request a special update on progress in this direction at the next PCB.

It is only through a rigorous identification of the problems, and joint creative thinking about solutions—including through the strategic use of ARVs—that we can finally achieve a generation of children free of AIDS.  Ending the transmission of HIV to children through PMTCT programmes is a great step – and we have made huge strides in this area. But we must not forget the 700 children still born with HIV day after day after day. These children deserve a healthy future that they can only have by accessing treatment -- and it is up to us to do the hard work to ensure that they get it.”

Eliane Drakopoulos is EGPAF’s Public Policy Officer, based in Geneva, Switzerland.