By 2010 there will be an estimated 50 million orphaned children in sub-Saharan Africa

A report released today by global health organizations says that by the year 2010 there will be an estimated 50 million orphaned children in sub-Saharan Africa. It also claims that over 15 million of them will have lost a parent to AIDS/HIV.

The report "Children on the Brink 2004" provides the most up to date statistical information on orphaned children. The report was prepared by USAID, UNAIDS and UNICEF.

In the two years, between 2001 and 2003, the number of children orphaned due to AIDS has risen from 11.5 million to 15 million with the vast majority in Africa. In Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, other regions covered by the report, orphan numbers have dropped by around a tenth since 1990.

Ethiopia is among the most severely affected countries in the world by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Currently, 2.2 million people are infected with HIV, giving Ethiopia the third highest population of HIV-infected persons in the world.

According to UNAIDS, one Ethiopian in six living in the nation's capital is infected with HIV. The cumulative number of deaths from AIDS is expected to increase to between 4 and 7 million over the next 12 years.

“Parts of Sub-Saharan Africa are undergoing a tidal wave of orphaning, in varying degrees due to AIDS,” UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said. “The report clearly spells out what’s best for children - keeping their parents alive and healthy, ensuring that they get good educations, and strengthening the laws, policies and norms that protect children from exploitation and abuse.”

In Sub-Saharan Africa the AIDS/HIV epidemic is wreaking havoc on a scale unimagined. Home to two-thirds of all people living with HIV and three out of four people dying from AIDS, the proportion of children who have lost parents due to AIDS has risen from just under 2 per cent in 1990 to over 28 per cent in 2003. Since 2000, 3.8 million children have lost one or both parents to AIDS, and by 2010, 18.4 million children – more than one in three orphans – will have lost parents to AIDS.

“This report underscores the critical importance of caring for children affected by AIDS,” said Dr. Anne Peterson, USAID’s assistant administrator for global health. “That’s why President Bush made caring for these children an essential component of his $15 billion Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.”

In 11 of the 43 countries in the region, more than one in seven children are orphans. In five of those 11 countries, AIDS is the cause of parental death more than 50 per cent of the time.

While HIV prevalence remains low, absolute numbers of orphaned children are much higher in Asia, which has almost four times more children. In 2003, there were 87.6 million orphans due to all causes in Asia, double sub-Saharan Africa’s 43.4 million. Although the proportion of those orphaned due to AIDS is likely to remain small, the authors warn that even slight upward trends in prevalence in mega-population countries like China, India or Indonesia could lead to much greater numbers of orphans due to AIDS.

“With 60 per cent of the world’s population, Asia could soon be faced with a serious orphan crisis unless it takes urgent steps to stop the epidemic in its tracks,” said Dr. Peter Piot, UNAIDS Executive Director. “To avoid having millions more children become orphaned due to AIDS, countries must do everything they can to prevent people from becoming newly infected in the first place.”

More than nine out of 10 children affected by HIV and AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa are living with a surviving parent, sibling or other relative. But these families, most of whom are not receiving any external assistance, are in urgent need of support, the report notes.

The family capacity – whether the head of the household is a widowed parent, an elderly grandparent or a young person – represents the single most important factor in building a protective environment for children who have lost their parents, the authors stress. Without protective laws, child welfare services, social mechanisms and a supportive community, children are at much higher risk of exploitation, abuse, violence and discrimination.

The report calls for the urgent development and expansion of family-based and community-based care for boys and girls who are living outside of family care. Placement in residential institutions is best reserved as a last resort when better care options have not yet been developed or as a temporary measure pending placement in a family, the report states.

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