Protecting Orphans and Vulnerable Children from the Effects of HIV/AIDS

An Ariel Camp meeting in Rwanda

James Pursey/EGPAF

The briefing – “U.S. Global AIDS Efforts to Help Orphans and Vulnerable Children” – brought together representatives from government, non-profits, and the faith-based community for a talk at the Kaiser Family Foundation. 

The discussion was generated by a new book, A Twist of Faith: An American Christian's Quest to Help Orphans in Africa. Written by global health journalist John Donnelly, the book follows NOAH Project Director's David Nixon’s mission to help orphaned children in Malawi.

While Nixon shared some of the successes and challenges from his personal experiences, Lyons and other panelists also discussed broader efforts to help children affected by AIDS in Africa.

Since the beginning of the epidemic, more than 16 million children have become orphaned due to AIDS, with almost 15 million living in sub-Saharan Africa as of 2010.

Even larger is the number of children made “vulnerable” by the epidemic, who are also facing unique challenges – children whose parents are chronically ill, children living in households that have taken in orphans, or children in communities with a high HIV/AIDS prevalence

Orphans and vulnerable children – also known as OVC or “children affected by AIDS” – are less likely to be in school, less likely to have access to healthcare, less likely to receive normal meals, less likely to have their basic needs met, and unlikely to receive psychosocial support.

Because they have poor access to educational, health, and financial services, they are also more at risk for becoming infected with HIV, thus continuing the cycle of the disease.

Fortunately, national governments, organizations such as the Foundation, and individuals like Nixon are working to provide care and support for children affected by the epidemic.

Some of the Foundation’s projects helping vulnerable children are large scale, like Project Keneya in Côte d'Ivoire. In its first year, the program reached nearly 5,000 children affected by the epidemic with a range of services to increase access to healthcare, adequate shelter, and legal services and emotional support.

EGPAF’s projects for vulnerable children are often targeted and in direct response to a community need and include supporting smaller, community-based organizations in providing pediatric counseling and psychosocial support.

One EGPAF program in Zambia seeks to provide much needed data on the impact of OVC programming, as part of a Johns Hopkins University study to evaluate whether counseling can improve children’s emotional and behavioral health, as well as reduce the risks associated with HIV.

During the discussion at Kaiser, Lyons highlighted the opportunity to integrate services for children affected by AIDS with broader programs for maternal and child health and prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV. Ultimately, keeping mothers alive and healthy is one of the first and best ways to reduce the number of orphans and vulnerable children.

Governments and implementers will also need to expand the reach of these medical interventions to provide additional support services to children, mothers, and families in their communities – something that smaller, community-based OVC providers are doing already.

Local groups that are focused on helping vulnerable children and their caregivers will be the same groups that help us protect children from the effects of the AIDS epidemic – and end the cycle of this disease.

Click here to watch a webcast of the entire discussion at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Samantha Ritter is an Assistant in the Foundation’s Global Communications Department.