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World: AIDS Day 1997 Focuses On Children

Prague, 18 November 1997 (RFE/RL) - On December 1 the world will mark the tenth anniversary of the AIDS Day. There will be public demonstrations and vigils, candlelight parades and conferences.

The AIDS Day is observed globally each year to encourage public support for programs to prevent the spread of the HIV virus that causes the deadly disease AIDS, and to provide education and awareness.

The Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, first discovered in 1983, compromises the human immune system, leaving its sufferers vulnerable to a host of opportunistic infections. There is no known cure, neither is there, as yet, a vaccine against the HIV virus, most commonly spread through the sharing of dirty needles in drug use or unsafe sex.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said earlier this year that the number of people officially reported with full-blown AIDS since 1983 totalled 1.64 million by the end of last year. The official count is believed to be a fraction of the real total. It does NOT indicate how many of those afflicted with AIDS had died. The estimated global figure for those infected with the HIV virus which can lead to AIDS, as of this time last year, was around 20 million, according to the UN.

This year's world AIDS Day theme centers on children, who are increasingly included on the rosters of those infected. According to the Geneva-based joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), a partnership of six United Nations agencies organizing World AIDS Day, all children in the world face a "LIFETIME" risk from HIV infection. Other startling UN statistics involving children and HIV/AIDS include the following:

Every day, worldwide, 1,000 children become infected with HIV.

More than one million more enter the dangerous sex trade every year.

If the spread of HIV is not contained by 2010, AIDS may increase infant mortality by as much as 75 percent, and under-5 child mortality by more than 100 percent.

Over nine million children are estimated to have lost their mothers to AIDS.

Last year alone, 400,000 children under the age of 15 became infected.

According to the WHO, half of the world's HIV-infected children live in Romania.

Children are also affected by AIDS in many other ways, as thousands more live with the economic and psychological repercussions of losing a parent or parents to the disease.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child provides a framework for promoting and protecting the rights of children that can miminize the impact of the HIV/AIDS epidemic on them. But, despite its almost universal ratification, the response to infected, affected and vulnerable children has remained inconsistent.

Internationally, AIDS programs for children have been sporadic and fragmented, and have lagged behind the ones for adults. In many developing countries, this situation is made even worse by poverty, armed conflicts and the resulting breakdowns of many communities.

The industrialized world does not fare much better. In a survey conducted in the United States, government lobbyists on children's issues admitted that while they were generally successful in promoting other causes such as education and anti-poverty programs, they experienced major problems with childhood AIDS issues such as prevention, orphan care and sexual education.

AIDS is said to be the most publicized disease in the world. But the United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS says its impact on children has received an inadequate reponse. Troubling, they say, when one considers it may very well be that the epidemic's future course will be shaped by the actions of those same children it increasingly affects.