Friday, March 23, 2007

AIDS Orphans in Sub-Saharan Africa

I'm Christie Brough

According to the AIDS Epidemic Update of December 2006, about 25 million people are living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa, comprising 63 percent of all individuals with HIV globally. Approximately 13.3 million, or 59 percent, of these individuals are women, most of whom have children. Although considerable efforts have been made to provide these individuals increased access to antiretroviral therapy, 2.1 million Africans died in 2006, resulting in an increased number of AIDS orphans.

In 2001, 14 million children had already lost one or both of their parents to AIDS. Because of the difficulty of obtaining antiretroviral therapy, many more children will be affected. In fact, one estimate projects that the number of AIDS orphans will increase by approximately 150 percent by the year 2010, leaving 20 million children to raise themselves.

As children watch their parents succumb to AIDS, they often suffer psychological and emotional harm. Once a parent becomes too sick to work, children are forced to work themselves in order to raise money for their families or to take care of younger siblings, causing them to drop out of school. Another factor forcing children to drop out of school is their inability to pay for required items, like school uniforms, pencils, textbooks, and exam fees, which they no longer can afford. If they do not have these items for school every day, they may be sent home and told not to return until they have the proper materials. Children that continue to attend school despite their parent’s illness often display a lack of attention or inappropriate behavior in the classroom, which is thought to result from emotional stress. Academic performance is also negatively affected by child malnutrition. Malnutrition is common in AIDS-related poverty since most of the family’s resources must be spent on medication for the ill parent. As a result, school enrollment rates in sub-Saharan Africa are dropping as the death toll from AIDS continues to rise.

Children that grow up without parents and without an education are “trapped in a social and pedagogical vacuum.” These children are not only more vulnerable to contract HIV/AIDS, but they are also at higher risk of unemployment, exploitation, and other forms of social inequalities. In order to change the outlook for AIDS orphans in sub-Saharan Africa, international and national agencies must aid in providing greater access to antiretroviral treatment. One relatively successful example is the World Heath Organization’s 3-by-5 program. The 3-by-5 plan aimed at providing 3 million individuals worldwide antiretroviral treatment by 2005. Although the program did not meet its goal of treating 3 million HIV positive individuals in the 2-year period, the program successfully provided access to many individuals who were not receiving treatment before. According to the World Health Organization, the number of individuals receiving treatment in sub-Saharan Africa increased by more than 800 percent, increasing the distribution of antiretroviral drugs from 100,000 individuals to 810,000 individuals.

Although the success of the 3-by-5 program will decrease the number of AIDS orphans in future generations, programs must be implemented to save current AIDS orphans. One option is the development of vocational training programs, which could help orphans stay off the streets (especially, young girls who are forced into sex work). If funds from debt relief programs are channeled directly into schools, school enrollment might increase. Another option is to offer government subsidies to extended families, which might help children stay out of work and stay in school. Additionally, providing government subsidies would maintain a family structure for children, keeping them out of orphanages. While these appear to be wonderful programs, the effectiveness of these programs would be difficult to monitor. Thus, before any programs are employed, local, national, and international governments and agencies want to ensure their success. However, it is imperative that these agencies act quickly before it is too late.

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