The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, working through its member National Societies in virtually every country in the world, attaches the highest priority to addressing the vulnerability of children.
The work of our National Societies is well-known, but we believe there is a need for fresh engagement by significant bodies like the Commission on Human Rights on finding new ways of meeting the challenge posed to children and youth living with HIV&AIDS. We attach special priority, in this context, to the vulnerability experienced by orphans.
Sub Saharan Africa is home to 24 of the 25 countries with the world's highest levels of HIV prevalence and this is reflected in the rapid rise in the number of orphaned children. In the Southern Africa region, the ten Red Cross Societies have made support for orphans and other children made vulnerable by HIV&AIDS (OVC) their top priority this year.
The approach they have adopted is guided by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the International Federation's own guidelines on working with OVC, and by the new Southern Africa regional Red Cross OVC Strategy. The immediate consequence is activity aimed at the massive scaling up of Red Cross support to OVC through a holistic approach to ensure that all the needs of the children are met and that their rights are upheld.
Alongside the scaling up of support, the Red Cross Societies and the International Federation are working together in collaboration with communities to provide an environment where children and their family affected by HIV&AIDS can be supported and protected, and their rights can be realised. It is our firm view that without this community involvement there is little prospect that the programs can produce tangible results.
I would like to share with you some examples to show how important it is to build up a supporting community for children in need.
• The Zimbabwe Red Cross Society is assisting 52, 841 OVC through their integrated HIV and AIDS programme which includes home based care, prevention, working with youth, and OVC. This support includes educational support such as school fees and uniforms, food and agricultural inputs, clothing , health advice and HIV and AIDS awareness, psychological support through counselling and memory work, youth friendly centres, sports and recreation, and education on child rights.
• The Botswana Red Cross has a mentoring programme for OVC where caring adult volunteers provide support to individual children - assisting them in their studies, ensuring they have time for recreation, and providing a caring adult role model for the children.
• Care for the carers - the Red Cross is aiming to increase it support to the carers - this includes the grandparents and other guardians of the children, it includes the children who are caring for their sick and dying parents, and it includes the Red Cross volunteers who work tirelessly with PLWHA and their families. It is important to note that many of our volunteers in Southern Africa are living with HIV and AIDS themselves and the Red Cross is seeking ways to ensure that they have access to the health care they need.
Our work in this area targets also at children at particular risk, such as street children. The pandemic has contributed significantly to the increased numbers of such children, but they are all too often marginalised and forgotten. In our view the Commission on Human Rights needs to take urgent action to defend the human rights of children living on the streets, recognising that HIV&AIDS presents a huge threat to their health and security.
This is, in our view, also integral to work for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and especially Goal 6 on HIV&AIDS.
Another point which should be stressed is the absolute importance of the provision of information and skills to children which equip them with the ability to understand and deal with the HIV&AIDS threat themselves.
This is one of the basic underpinnings of Millennium Development Goal 2 on Universal primary education. It is essential that governments and civil society work together to protect children from ignorance and further the ambitions of the priorities contained in the Declaration adopted by the UN General Assembly's Special Session on Children in 2002.
We are seeking to deliver a key message on the absolute priority of this issue in many different fora, and will do so again at the forthcoming session of the World Health Assembly in Geneva as well as in regional meetings and other bodies.
It is that the child endures special vulnerability and a special loss of human rights as a result of the HIV&AIDS pandemic.
There needs to be much more work done on all aspects of the care and treatment of children. This must include recognition of the family as the unit which can best provide care, paralleled by more work on, for example, research and development of paediatric formulations of antiretroviral (ARV) medicines for children.
Equally, medicines are not enough - there needs to be much more training provided for medical professionals such as doctors and nurses, together with volunteers or care-givers involved with giving children ARV treatment.
We would like to see all the global efforts to fight HIV&AIDS such as GFATM, Three by Five, PEPFAR etc, working to facilitate children's access to antiretroviral therapy (ART) and treatment for opportunistic infections. We would like to see the Commission on Human Rights and all National Human Rights Institutions take this priority into their own listings.
At the same time, we would like to see much more work done at the national level, all over the world, to make special efforts to address the discrimination and stigma which children living with HIV&AIDS experience. This needs to include teachers, and also all in every community who might have an impact on the issues of dignity and respect which are so important to the effective protection of human rights.
Some of this can be done through legislation, but it is at heart a community issue, and one which our experience shows is significantly advanced through the involvement and participation of children and young people in planning, implementing and monitoring of programmes that affect their lives and their future.
The International Federation and its National Society members throughout the world attach the very highest priority to this survival issue. Unless it is properly addressed, the cohesion of entire communities and even nations is threatened.
Our National Society members, as auxiliaries to the public authorities in the humanitarian field, stand ready to work with governments and civil society in all countries to bring action forward on this vital question.