by Shaun DMello on  May 6, 2015 at 1:25 PM Health In Focus
World AIDS Orphan Day 2015
Unlike most other commemorative health days like World Health Day, World Asthma Day or World Tuberculosis Day, World AIDS Orphans Day is not an international day of commemoration regulated by the UN or any of its member bodies.

While we still struggle to come to terms with the problem of children being orphaned in the 21st Century, we are also forced to grapple with the problem of dealing with orphans afflicted with AIDS or orphans whose parents succumbed to the disease. A social campaign that sought to highlight issues surrounding the problem spearheaded the campaign to celebrate the May 7 as World AIDS Orphan Day.

The NGO, Association François-Xavier Bagnoud International, better known simply as FXB was responsible for the creation of this commemorative day, which is now celebrated every year. As per the definitions created agreed by the WHO, UNICEF and UNAIDS, an AIDS orphan is a child who has lost his or her mother before having reached the age of 15. While the father may remain alive in many cases, children until this age are most dependent on their mothers and often, the father may not be present in the child's life. In cases where both parents have succumbed to AIDS, the child is left completely at the mercy of the state. This is a problem that is widespread in Sub-Saharan Africa, but it is not exclusive to the region.

According to some estimates, almost 18 million children have lost a parent or both to AIDS and may be classified as AIDS orphans. These figures are only expected to rise and most experts believe that they could touch 25 million orphans within this year. What's disturbing is that the vast majority of these children are from sub-Saharan Africa, with 15.1 million of the 18 million affected children living in the region. In countries where the AIDS epidemic has been especially devastating such as in Zimbabwe, AIDS orphans also account for over 70% of all the orphaned children in the country. Outside of Africa, the problem is worrying in Asia because of the lack of organised data on those affected, although the problem is nowhere near as endemic as it is to Africa.

Understanding the Cost

Emotional Cost: AIDS orphans suffer a great deal of psychological and emotional trauma because of their circumstances. Most children experience neglect even before being orphaned as parents themselves struggle to cope with a disease that will eventually win. Children may also be ostracised by society and under such circumstances, it comes as no surprise that many of these orphans suffer from depression, anger, anxiety and other psychological problems.

Basic Necessities: The loss of one's parents to AIDS generally means that the child is also cut off from basic necessities like food, clothing and shelter. As AIDS claims sexually active adults who are usually bread winners for the family, most households with AIDS orphans are impoverished and the burden on surviving earners increases. Children are under such conditions often forced to beg or work to survive.

Education: AIDS orphans are often denied access to proper education because their caregivers cannot afford the costs of education and also because children in such situations often miss out on school enrolment or find their schooling is interrupted because of their situation.

Finding Solutions:

The most imortant step is to improve HIV awareness through public awareness campaigns and sex education, as this is the most effective method to prevent AIDS. HIV infection and transmission rates can be significantly reduced if people were better informed about the risk and were made aware of the modes of transmission and how they can be safeguarded against it. While there are numerous campaigns and educational programs being conducted to this end, lots more needs to be done improve the outcome of those already infected. We need to make every effort to reduce the number of AIDS-related deaths through improved availability and affordable treatments for AIDS, with anti-retroviral drugs being made accessible to all AIDS patients.

Another significant concern is the risk of mother to child transmission, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, where women account for 61% of HIV-positive population. While HIV-positive orphans require special care and attention, it should be pointed out that not all AIDS orphans are infected. The truth is that pediatric HIV infections can be almost completely eliminated if HIV positive women are provided with appropriate drugs and are educated about proper child-care techniques.

Initiatives to raise funds to help families who are raising AIDS orphans can also be of tremendous help as it is best that children are raised within their family, especially considering their shared experiences. Every effort needs to be made to ensure that these children have access to education as this is their only hope out of poverty. The legal rights of children also need to be better protected as their inheritance rights and other rights are often violated by manipulative family members and other adults.

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