Kate Iorpenda reflects on the pre-International AIDS Conference symposium on Children Affected by HIV and AIDS.
As the pre-conference symposium on Children affected by HIV and AIDS closes and the 2010 International AIDS Conference in Vienna opens, the call for the end to paediatric AIDS strengthens.
Michel Sidibe from UNAIDS opened both events with a commitment to this goal for 2015 and expressed his belief that it could be a reality. However, much as I want to share this optimism I find it hard in the light of the continuing violations of the rights of the most vulnerable families in society.
For the prevention of mother to child transmission we need pregnant mothers to be in antenatal services, be offered services that can protect them and their child and support them to live into the future. With the right service, at the right time less than 2 per cent of children born to HIV positive women would be born HIV positive.
We have the knowledge, we have the science, we have the money – it is a very affordable intervention but there are still so many who are not getting this service.
For many this is due to poor health services, limited trained staff, lack of availability of the drugs, poor follow up with families, limited community involvement but for some it is something more shocking that prevents them from receiving the vital support to ensure their children are born HIV free. That is stigma, discrimination and prejudice.
Sex workers, people who use drugs, men who have sex with men, all have children. They all want their children to be healthy, happy and safe. Yet these families are the most marginalised, highly stigmatised and under serviced.
These families are afraid to come forward for services for themselves and their children for fear of having their children taken away. These families are not able to be honest about the challenges they face, the difficulties they are dealing with, for fear of prosecution, violence and abuse. Their children are missing out due to moral values and judgement of others.
These are families that are too easily forgotten, unrecognised and excluded from services yet as with all children they have the right to health.
The consequence of this exclusion is children die. One third of children born to HIV positive mothers will die within their first year of life and two thirds by their second birthday.
So how do we reach these families and build their trust in systems and services that currently do not recognise their rights or cater for their specific needs and circumstances? Without their greater inclusion we can never reach this important, but currently idealistic target of an end to paediatric AIDS. The theme of the conference is Rights Here Right Now and never has this been more important!