MAPUTO, 16 June (PLUSNEWS) - Non-governmental organisations in Mozambique are concerned that not enough is being done to assist the escalating number of children infected and affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
More than one million Mozambican children are either living with HIV, caring for family members sick with AIDS-related illnesses, or have already lost one or both parents to the pandemic.
"Children and young people need to be at the centre of the national response to HIV/AIDS in Mozambique," said Leila Pakkala, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) representative, on Wednesday, the eve of the 'Day of the African Child'.
"The HIV/AIDS pandemic has a tremendous destructive effect on the lives of Mozambican children and young people - a fact that is still widely underestimated. It is imperative that we rapidly scale up all prevention, treatment, care and support programmes for children and young people," she urged.
Ndeshi Friis, a consultant to the 'Hope for the African Child Initiative', a Kenya-based pan-African NGO, said although considerable support has been given, "We need to do more, and give more of a voice to the orphaned and vulnerable children (OVC) themselves."
"The children need access to more platforms so they can tell us their needs, [which can then] influence national policy", Friiss told IRIN.
Besides financial support, OVC also require technical skills to help them sustain their families, said Irene Cossa, of Kindlimuka, an association of people living with HIV and AIDS. "They are children today, but tomorrow they are adults, with huge responsibilities already," she pointed out to IRIN.
New figures issued by the National Statistics Institute (INE) show that the HIV/AIDS pandemic is worsening, with the prevalence rate among people aged 15-49 years now at 15.6 percent, compared to 14.9 percent last year, and 8.2 percent seven years ago.
AIDS is increasingly emerging as one of the important underlying causes of illness and death among children in Mozambique. In 2004, out of 97,000 people who died from AIDS-related illnesses, 17,500 were children younger than five, and there are now 91,000 children under the age of 15 living with HIV.
Around 500 people contract HIV every day, 90 of them babies born to infected mothers. Half of them die during their first year and the half of the remainder will not survive until their second birthday.
Adolescent girls are especially vulnerable to HIV infection: of the 130,000 young people aged between 15 and 19 estimated to be living with HIV/AIDS, 100,000 are girls.
Apart from the large number of children living with the virus, an increasing number also have HIV positive parents. According to INE, more than 325,000 children and young people under the age of 18 will have lost their mother, father or both parents to AIDS by the end of 2005.
An estimated 180,000 sick adults are probably living with children. Besides the trauma of living with someone dying of AIDS-related illnesses, many of them will be saddled with extra household chores and caring for the sick, often at the expense of their education.
The Canadian International Development Agency, through UNICEF Canada, announced on Wednesday that it would support UNICEF's programme for OVC in Mozambique with almost US $1 million. The programme aims to ensure that all children are enrolled in school, and have access to health services, safe water and sanitation.
Sara Zandamela of HelpAge International (HAI) told IRIN that more attention should be given to the needs of the increasing number of elderly carers, to provide better assistance to OVC.
"Most of these carers are subsistence farmers with no resources and they are dependent on the climate. Their first concern is food and survival. Besides sensitising the communities and schools about the need for orphaned children to go to school, HAI assists the elderly carers with income-generating projects and provides nearby safe water, so they can free their grandchildren to go to school," said Zandamela.
HAI has assisted some 200,000 elderly carers in the northern province of Tete and the southern province of Gaza.
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