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International AIDS Conference Report-back: Symposium on children affected by HIV and AIDS

August 25, 2006

by Hesperian staffers Darlena David and Susan McCallister ,who have just returned from the 16th International AIDS Conference (IAC) in Toronto, Canada. 

Photos: Hundreds march to raise awareness about HIV among women and children

We were energized and engaged by the IAC, especially the symposium, ‘Envisioning the Future’, an International Symposium on Children Affected by HIV and AIDS held in conjunction with the conference.  The symposium brought together a diverse group of specialists in early childhood development, representatives from projects working with children, health experts, and others who want a greater visibility for issues around children and HIV. The opportunity to meet with people, including several advisers and collaborators with our upcoming book, Helping Children at Risk of Emotional and Behavioral Problems, was invaluable. Getting to discuss our common work face-to-face certainly pointed out the limitations of e-mail!

Stephen Lewis, UN Special Envoy on HIV/AIDS in Africa, expressed outrage at the current response to HIV in children: Only 5% of children who need antiretrovirals (ARVs) are being given them, and only 10% of pregnant women with HIV have access to Prevention of Mother-To-Child Transmission (PMTCT) services. Lewis spoke of the intense psychological trauma resulting from the HIV epidemic: “Grandparents bury their children, and then have to respond to the needs of their grandchildren as they deal with the death of their parents.”

Hesperian advisor Linda Richter (Human Sciences Research Council, South Africa) reminded participants that “families are the first and last defense for children and they need assistance… There is a serious disconnect between the care and support that is being provided, but that is not recognized as part of the AIDS response.”  She insisted that, “Home is where the heart is, and we need to make sure children have a home.” She exhorted the participants to advocate raising the standard of care for all children through government-funded health care and education, which she called the most effective intervention for children.

Dr. Jerry Coovadia (Nelson Mandela School of Medicine, South Africa) made a plea for integrated approaches to meeting children’s health care needs. He argued that we need to look at all the causes of and contributors to child mortality and engage in good treatment practices for all children.

Representatives from ELMA Philanthropies, the Bernard van Leer Foundation, the Firelight Foundation, the Clinton HIV/AIDS Initiative, and the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund spoke about how they do their work and invited symposium participants to advise them on strategic needs for the future. They in turn were charged by participants to find ways to reach the broader academic and governmental child health and HIV communities, rather than just those already committed to dealing with children and HIV. Scholars and leaders need to see the work and analyses that are being done, along with the pressing needs for further research and for further application of the lessons learned. The funders appeared to hear the plea that they pay attention to how funding dictates can either facilitate or block the need to offer comprehensive care and support–not just ARV treatment, but nutrition; not just care for the child, but for the mother.

Perhaps the key message from the symposium is that vulnerable children who have affectionate and stable family care are able to overcome disadvantages, become resilient, and make positive contributions to society. Our interactions with people representing innovative projects working with vulnerable children using this framework was incredibly helpful to our work on “Helping children at risk of emotional and behavioral problems.” 


Additional resources:
CRIN (Child Rights Information Network)
The Teresa Group