AIDS Day Focuses On Kids

Grieving, poor and often neglected, many of the 11 million children of parents who have died of AIDS are stigmatized, denied education and assumed to be affected with the virus itself, a new U.N. report says.

To mark World Aids Day on Wednesday, the United Nations released a new study and statistics on the plight of children left behind when one or both parents die of AIDS, especially in African nations where the disease has hit hardest.

"The AIDS pandemic has turned sub-Saharan Africa into a killing field, creating an orphan crisis of epic proportions requiring nothing less than an emergency response," said the report produced by UNAIDS and the World Health Organization.

By the end of next year, the U.N. projects that 13 million children will have lost their mother or both parents to AIDS, 10.4 million of them under 15 years of age. Some 95 percent of the AIDS orphans are in Africa.

And within Africa, eastern and southern African nations account for 48 percent of the world's HIV-positive population, although only 4.8 percent of the world's people live in this region. Infection rates are expected to rise even further because of poor health systems, poverty and limited resources to halt the spread of the virus, which has killed 16 million people around the world and infected 33 million more.

"The skyrocketing number of AIDS orphans is - in addition to the loss of life caused by AIDS - putting a severe strain on traditional support systems in Africa," Carol Bellamy, the executive director of the U.N. Children's Fund, said.

"The grandparents who in so many cases are taking care of their orphaned grandchildren have limited resources."

The plight of orphans is the subject of a day-long seminar that includes U.S. first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, former New York Mayor David Dinkins, Queen Noor of Jordan and basketball star Magic Johnson, who announced in 1991 he was HIV positive.

Orphans, the report said, run greater risks of being malnourished and stunted than children with parents. They are more likely to be denied education by overburdened extended families and often are denied health care under the assumption they already are infected.

Consequently, they run a higher risk of abuse, homelessness and sexual exploitation than children orphaned by other causes, the report said.

Adults dying are usually in their most productive years, leaving schools, hospital and other services short-staffed in both the public and the private sector.

Kofi Annan

Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in a statement Tuesday, warned that the silence surrounding AIDS contributed to its spread. "We we must continue to battle the culture of shame," he said. "Hiding AIDS behind a curtain of stigma helps to spread it. Speaking out about AIDS helps slow it down."

©1999 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed