UNICEF receives Sweden's donation for AIDS orphans

Sweden has donated nearly US $5 million to the UN children's agency (UNICEF) to strengthen the organisation's capacity to deal with the growing number of AIDS orphans in Ethiopia.

UNICEF and its partners in the Orphans and Vulnerable Children National Task Force had asked for $11 million to implement the first phase of Ethiopia's National Plan of Action for children who have been affected by HIV/AIDS. The programme will address the needs of 56,000 orphans initially, the agency said in a statement issued on Friday.

"Despite our modest initial goals, responses from donors towards the plan of action have been poor," said Bjorn Ljungqvist, UNICEF's representative in Ethiopia. "This Swedish contribution is the first major contribution we have received since the plan was announced last December.

"In Ethiopia, this poor showing from the donor community has meant that our response to HIV/AIDS, particularly with regard to orphans, remains at very rudimentary levels," he added.

Assistance from the Norwegian and Austrian governments over the past three years enabled UNICEF to establish national youth networks and more than 10,000 anti-AIDS clubs across Ethiopia, he said.

The $4.96 million Swedish donation would allow UNICEF to strengthen the anti-AIDS clubs and offer counselling services, testing and educational support to young people.

The contribution will fund projects in Afar, Oromia, Somali and Tigray regions over the next three years.

The number of children orphaned by AIDS in Ethiopia is expected to increase to 2.5 million by 2014, according to Ljungqvist. "We are faced with hard decisions, juggling precious resources between competing needs. However, we have no choice but to act now if we are to save a generation of children and adolescents from being lost."

An estimated 1.5 million people are living with HIV/AIDS in Ethiopia, and that number is projected to reach 2.4 million by 2015. UNICEF emphasised the importance of working with young people, who could learn to modify their behaviour more easily than adults.