AIDS virus to orphan 14 million in 8 years

6% of children in Africa will lose at least 1 parent, says report by agencies

July 11, 2002|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

BARCELONA, Spain - By 2010, 6 percent of all children in Africa will have lost at least one parent to the AIDS virus, United Nations and U.S. government officials said in a report issued at the 14th International AIDS Conference yesterday.

The number of orphans, defined as children younger than 15 who lose one or both parents, is expected to rise in Africa from 11 million now to 20 million by 2010, the officials said.

Also, HIV will have orphaned 5 million children elsewhere in the world by 2010, according to the report.

It said that if the epidemic of acquired immune deficiency syndrome had not occurred, the orphan rates would be declining in Africa.

The report was the first issued jointly by the U.N. program on AIDS, UNICEF and the U.S. Agency for International Development with statistical assistance from the U.S. Census Bureau. Officials of the agencies said the report was the first unified effort to provide a consistent set of figures and was the most comprehensive yet on children orphaned by HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

"Even if by some miracle the spread of HIV stopped today, the number of orphans would still rise for a decade" because parents who already have HIV will die in the next few years, said Dr. Anne Peterson, an official of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

But the United Nations has said HIV is spreading so rapidly in many areas of the world that 45 million people will become infected by 2010 if anti-HIV therapy is not widely available soon.

Forty million people are now infected, and an unknown number of them will die by 2010. An estimated 20 million people have died of AIDS so far.

Most of the AIDS orphans do not lose their parents as infants, but years later when they are of school age and "can only watch as one parent, then often the other, gradually grows ill and dies" with little family planning for the children's future, the report said.

The orphan report "without doubt is one of the most shocking reports to come out at the conference," which has produced several grim reports, Dr. Peter Piot, assistant secretary-general of the United Nations and head of its AIDS program, said at a news conference.

Piot said the AIDS orphan issue was "unprecedented" because even in a time of war, when many children become orphans, it was fathers who usually died but not mothers.

Many of the 17,000 participants at the conference agreed with Piot, including Dr. Stefano Vella, president of International AIDS Society, one of the sponsors of the AIDS conference.

In an interview, Vella said more money was needed to treat infected mothers during labor to prevent transmission of the virus to their newborns and then to sustain the therapy to save the life of the mothers. Money is also needed to treat the fathers.

Even orphans who escape infection at birth are likely to become a group at high risk for acquiring HIV as they grow up because many will be poor, drop out of school, and suffer abuse and stigma, Vella said.

As AIDS has broken up the traditional family structure, children are caring for children and orphans are caring for orphans, participants said.

The report provides statistics from 88 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean.

But it excludes India "because we weren't able to get the data, quite frankly," said Carol Bellamy, executive director of UNICEF.

Although conference speakers said there was an AIDS orphan crisis, Bellamy said it had not reached the point at which officials are recommending international adoptions.

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