UNICEF in drive to reduce HIV/AIDS prevalence in children

The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) launched on Monday a campaign to support and protect tens of thousands of Burundian children living with or affected by HIV/AIDS.

At the ceremony in the capital, Bujumbura, the UNICEF representative to Burundi, Catherine Mbengue, said children had been largely left out of most anti-HIV/AIDS campaigns.

The campaign is a joint global initiative of UNICEF and UNAIDS.

Mbengue said the campaign aims at reducing the number of HIV/AIDS infections among adolescents, providing treatment to children, reducing by 80 percent the number of mother-to-child transmissions by 2010; as well as support and protection of children affected by HIV/AIDS.

Each minute, she said, a chid dies of an AIDS-related disease in the world, and an adolescent is infected every 15 minutes but, in spite of this, "children did not get the attention of the international community [which is] focusing its efforts on adults".

Mbengue said a survey carried out in 15 of Burundi's 17 provinces at the beginning of 2005 found there were 250,000 HIV /AIDS orphans, 30,000 of whom were living with HIV/AIDS.

The survey also found that more than 970,342 children were orphans or vulnerable children.

"That is 12 percent of Burundi's population that deserves to be taken care of," President Pierre Nkurunziza, who presided over the launch, said.

He said despite the increase of centres for the prevention of mother-to-child HIV/AIDS transmission in Burundi, which increased from one to 11 in 2005, mothers do not frequent the centres.

"We should analyse the reason behind this to bring an adequate response," he said.

Nkurunziza announced that by 2006, a solution would be found, with the aid of religious confessions, to the aid and support to vulnerable children, including those living with HIV/AIDS.

Citing a country he did not name, Nkurunziza said after a census of all religious leaders in that country, "they decided that one will take care of three children and the problem was over, with some good will, it might be the same here".

However, Spès Nininahazwe, the representative of Famille pour Vaincre le Sida, an organisation talking care of AIDS orphans, said children affected by HIV/AIDS were not only discriminated against but also fell prey to relatives who, instead of taking care of them, deprive them of their inheritance.