Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Recent UNICEF press release and one person's reaction to it

Thank you, Annette, for forwarding me this jolting email from Tim France in response to UNICEF's recent press release (http://www.unicef.org/media/media_38039.html). Reading it was similar to dunking my head into a bucket of ice water.

Hold your nose, y'all.

Tim France's email:

"Whatever you do UNICEF, accentuate the positive. I am getting so tired of the habitual practice of big agencies pumping up the positive side of anything they do on AIDS, and leaving the bad news for the small print. It is so dishonest and deceitful.

I have just read the latest and most staggering example I can recall, in a UNICEF statement from a couple of days ago.

Instead of launching your one-year stock-take of the 'Unite for Children, Unite against AIDS' campaign, why don't you just admit it UNICEF, progress on the global response to children and AIDS is appalling, and no amount of media spin will change the numbers.

One year after the launch of the campaign, a press release with the headline: "Signs of progress and momentum in global response to children and AIDS" does nothing to mask the fact that prgress against the campaign's four 'Ps' are nothing short of shameful. Trying to claim otherwise to placate your donors, or whoever it is you are stroking, is reprehensible in my opinion.

1. Preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV:

Despite your focus on the handful of "countries that have achieved breakthroughs in preventing HIV transmission from mothers to children," the overall access of pregnant women with HIV to ARVs is still only 9%.

You were right to refer to that as "unconscionably low."

The Campaign goal for this 'P' is: By 2010, offer appropriate services to 80 per cent of women in need

2. Providing paediatric treatment:

How the global average of "one in ten children needing antiretroviral treatment receiving it" constitutes progress is beyond me. And indirectly claiming some of the credit for the paediatric formulation price reductions negotiated by the Clinton Foundation - which surely is something UNICEF itself should have been blazing a trail on long ago - is manipulative and conniving.
The Campaign goal for this 'P' is: By 2010, provide either antiretroviral treatment or cotrimoxazole, or both, to 80 per cent of children in need

3. Preventing infection among adolescents and young people:

Again, you choose to accentuate the positive by saying: "The stocktaking report notes that prevention responses are displaying renewed attention on the need to focus strategies on adolescents and young people most at risk."

I am not even sure what that means, it is such circuitous wriggling. The 2006 AIDS Epidemic Update, published just two months ago, describes the state of this 'P' very clearly:
"In many regions of the world, new HIV infections are heavily concentrated among young people (15-24 years of age). Among adults 15 years and older, young people accounted for 40% of new HIV infections in 2006.

The Campaign goal for this 'P' is: By 2010, reduce the percentage of young people living with HIV by 25 per cent globally

4. Protecting and supporting children affected by HIV/AIDS:

The UNICEF statement really clutches at straws for something self-congratulatory to say here, by referring to the significant reduction "in several countries" between orphans and non-orphans in access to education.

In one of his last addresses as UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, Stephen Lewis said in 2006 that our response to the needs of children affected by the epidemic was "microscopic". He also said:

"It is impossible to understand how, in the year 2006, we still continue to fail to implement policies to address the torrent, the deluge of orphan children."

One of the chilling pieces of data UNICEF should be emphasizing is that only three to five per cent of orphans receive any intervention of any kind from the state.

The Campaign goal for this 'P' is: By 2010, reach 80 per cent of children most in need
Just what is it that UNICEF is afraid of? Why can't they just tell the truth?

Thank goodness that some journalists have taken the trouble to read the report for themselves, and conveyed the considerable disappointment that UNICEF should actually be communicating about it:

"Few pregnant African women get AIDS drugs: UNICEF" (Scientific American)
"African moms still pass on HIV to kids" (Pretoria News)
"UN Report: Response To Children With AIDS Insufficient" (All Headline News)
"Spread of AIDS to children slowing, but picture bleak" (Canadian Broadcasting Company)
"UN Says Global AIDS Effort for Children Falls Far Short" (New York Times)"



At 5:58 PM, Blogger Jeannine said...

I am equally disappointed and discouraged by these statistics especially in today's social and economic climate. There is no doubt that the 'medical solution' for this problem is available and 'doable'. The resources are there and an increasing number of those with the ability to fund the fair purcahse and distribution of needed strategies for prevention and treament are gaining interest and focus. But our world needs the leadership to develop a global infrasturcture that will address, not only the AIDS epidemic, but global poverty once and for all.

Jeannine Hatt MD FAAP

At 11:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

HIV/AIDS in the Asian Region

After 25 years of HIV/AIDS prevention efforts considerable knowledge has been accumulated regarding how the spread of HIV/AIDS can be controlled. It is necessary to block the transmission of the virus by changing the behaviour of people who are most at risk of contracting HIV infection and of transmitting it to others. The main approach to prevent sexual transmission are convincing people to delay or abstain from sex, to have fewer sexual partners and to use condoms in order to reduce the likelihood that sex between an infected and uninfected person will lead to an infection.

HIV/AIDS is not new to the Asia. More than two decades into the epidemic, the situation of HIV within Asia continues to grow at an alarming pace, with one person dying every minute due to an HIV related disease. With moderately 10 Million people living with HIV/AIDS, the impact of the epidemic can be devastating. The “Rainbow Nari O Shishu Kallyan Foundation” identified four major approaches in a groundbreaking study on spread out HIV in Asia. This study undertook by comparing of social-economic norm, family pattern, economic dependency, cause of mounting sex industries, gender discrimination status & global analysis fact. There are four factors that appear to play a crucial role in HIV transmission in Asian countries: Injection/ intravenous drug use (By sharing needle), female sex work (Due to lack of safe sex knowledge), gender discrimination (which indirectly force females commercial or non-commercial sex), Same sex/ homosexually/ Hijara (Due to lack of HIV/AIDS information, because they act invisible in this society). Poverty & illiteracy fueled it proportionally.

Overall, the countries in the region are considered to be in the early stage of the epidemic with the exception of Cambodia, Myanmar and Thailand which are experiencing generalized epidemics—a generalized epidemic is one where 1% of the population are HIV positive. The prevalence is growing in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, China, Vietnam and Indonesia, with epidemics concentrated largely among vulnerable populations such as sex workers, intravenous drug users and men who have sex with men. The bulk of the burden of HIV is on poor people, marginalized communities, the youth and women.

In this region, there are some superstitions about HIV/AIDS. This can be found in other countries too. Suppose, one-third people of China think that by using bathrooms, towels, plates and glasses of AIDS patients, HIV can be infected. Remember, it is not true certainly. The virus has been found in saliva in a small percentage of infected people, but usually this is late in the stage of the disease when you would not expect people to be too sexually active. After HIV enters the body, it attacks the immune system in stages. A person with HIV can infect others once the virus enters the bloodstream.

In the past few decades, the Asia has witnessed unprecedented economic growth and a rise in living standards. However, it has brought to the region disturbing concerns such as increasing levels of economic disparity, income poverty and new forms of deprivation. In addition, challenges such as conflicts, various forms of exploitation and discrimination, and gender inequality continue to mark the region’s socio-economic and cultural landscape. The fact that about 600 million people in the region live on less than US$ 1 a day testifies to the stark reality that a large majority of people in the region are still disempowered, with limited or no access to resources or information that would improve the lives.

Shravea Kumar
Urban Development Center (UDC)
Ahmedabad Gujarat


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