The Rights of the Child Living with HIV
On Thursday, 17 January, I traveled to Geneva, Switzerland for several reasons: to meet with our Geneva staff, to attend a day-long meeting of the Global Steering Group that is strategically pushing forward on effective implementation of the Global Plan, and to conduct EGPAF’s first-ever briefing of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC). The UN CRC is charged with monitoring countries’ compliance with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Convention clearly sets out the obligations governments have regarding protecting and promoting children’s rights, including health rights – and as such, it is very important to EGPAF. The CRC regularly reviews countries’ records with respect to the status of children, and makes recommendations for areas of improvement. To do this effectively, the CRC solicits information from national and international organizations that can shed light on the situation for children on the ground. CRC members are all experts in the field of children’s rights.
During my private briefing of members of the CRC, I stressed the troublingly low rates of access to antiretroviral (ARV) treatment by children living with HIV, even in countries where access by adults has seen great strides. Currently, the average rate of access by children is 28 percent, as opposed to 57 percent for adults. This is simply unacceptable. I emphasized the importance of countries prioritizing pediatric HIV in their national HIV action plans, and of ensuring that data they collect regarding the impact of HIV on their populations – and the steps they are taking to tackle HIV – are disaggregated for children. It is only through gaining an accurate picture of the situation for children living with HIV that we can identify the barriers to their effective treatment and care, and create the solutions necessary to deal with those barriers.
I requested that the members of the CRC encourage countries to include information about the status of children living with HIV, and about their efforts to improve access to prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT), when they report to the CRC about how they are implementing the provisions of the Convention. I also let CRC members know that our staff members in Geneva are there to help and to facilitate the provision of oral testimony by our country office staff when countries where we have an EGPAF office come up for review by the CRC.
I was very encouraged by the clear interest and engagement by CRC members in an issue that was very new to some of them, and heartened by the positive response to our suggestion that they encourage States to report on children and HIV – something that is not a regular feature in reports to the CRC at the moment. I leave Geneva encouraged by the door we have opened here, and excited about the potential for collaboration between our Geneva staff and country office staff to ensure that we pursue every avenue open to us that can bring us towards the goal of elimination of pediatric HIV worldwide.
Chip Lyons is president and CEO of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.