Recognizing the Importance of a Commitment to Ending Pediatric HIV

On October 26 , senators and representatives, Republicans and Democrats banded together on Capitol Hill to reinforce the importance of United States leadership in the fight to end AIDS in children.

Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Bob Casey (D-CA) and Congresswomen Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Barbara Lee (D-CA) (with 29 of their colleagues), introduced S. Res 310/ H. Res 593: Recognizing the importance of a continued commitment to ending pediatric HIV/AIDS worldwide.

This resolution highlights the incredible gains that have been made towards reaching pregnant women and children impacted by HIV and AIDS—which would not have been possible without U.S. leadership and programming that prioritizes children. Since 2000, millions of HIV infections have been averted thanks to a 70 percent reduction in new infections.  

However, the resolution points out that children continue to lag behind adults when it comes to ending AIDS. Without continued commitment we are at risk of failing them. As the recent Ending AIDS report by UNAIDS points out— the rate of children being initiated on antiretroviral treatment has slowed in recent years and we are not on track to meet 2018 goals set in regards to ending the disease in children.

The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) and Catholic Relief Services (CRS) co-hosted a briefing on Capitol Hill to highlight children and HIV.  EGPAF’s President and CEO, Chip Lyons, joined CRS Vice President of Advocacy and Government Relations, Bill O’Keefe, and Director of the Division of Global HIV and TB (DGHT) at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Dr. Shannon Hader, to educate Capitol Hill staff about on the ground efforts to end AIDS in children.

O’Keefe spoke passionately about challenges in reaching children living with or at risk for contracting the disease. O’Keefe spoke about times 25 years ago (when CRS began their HIV/AIDS work with children). He noted that it was a “terrifying time,” and “whole societies were on the verge of collapse.” O’Keefe said that at the time, it wasn’t known how we were going to reach and save the lives of so many people in Africa. He credited visionary U.S. leadership for stepping in and saving lives.

Lyons built on O’Keefe’s comments by noting that EGPAF continues to face a number of issues that also existed early in the epidemic—such as stigma, imperfect medicines for children, and the fact that children are not always prioritized in programs aiming to end the disease. Lyons stressed the importance of the resolution – noting that it shines an important spotlight on this vulnerable population.

Dr. Hader shared the fact that the absolute number of children with HIV pales in comparison to that of adults. However, if you choose not to focus on children they are so easily lost.

Diving into the numbers though, you realize the grave disparity among adults and children— new infections in children are equal to 9 percent of that in adults; yet children living with HIV are equal to 6 percent of adult people living with HIV; in large part because deaths in children are equal to 13 percent of adult deaths. We have to focus on this vulnerable population or they will continue to be left behind. 

Rep. Ros-Lehtinen and Senator Casey both commented on the continued bipartisan commitment to ending AIDS globally. They spoke about how we must do better for children impacted by HIV. Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen spoke about “redoubling efforts” to reach children and Senator Casey ended his remarks by saying: “all of us are summoned by our conscious to remain committed.”

Are you interested in highlighting this issue with your elected officials? You can help.

Reach out to your representative and senators and ask them to co-sponsor S. Res 310/ H. Res 593: Recognizing the importance of a continued commitment to ending pediatric AIDS worldwide today.