Nairobi- Kenya (PANA) -- As global celebrations to mark the World AIDS Day Tuesday gets into top gear, the UNICEF has released a report focusing on combating the effects of HIV/AIDS on vulnerable families and providing hardship protection for mothers and children at risk.
Published jointly by UNICEF, UNAIDS, UN Population Fund, and the World Health Organization, the report, titled 'Children and AIDS: Fourth Stocktaking Report 2009', reveals that preventing the transmission of HIV from mother to child is key to reducing the impact of the pandemic - and that the global economic crisis has been especially hard on those struggling with the effects of HIV and AIDS.
With new evidence suggesting that peak AIDS mortality in infants may come at a very early age, there is even more urgency to establishing early infant diagnosis and preventing HIV transmission to babies, the report concludes.
"In prevention of mother-to-child transmission, 45 per cent of women in need are getting help, compared to 10 per cent just four years ago," said UNICEF Chief of HIV/AIDS and Associate Director of Programmes Jimmy Kolker.
"And 19 countries have already reached the universal access target of 80 per cent coverage for prevention of mother-to-child transmission.
But of course, that means that 100 countries still haven't reached that target.
"We're going to have to accelerate our efforts if we want to meet that goal of universal access for prevention, treatment, care and support," added Mr.
The report urges more investment in social protection, a comprehensive approach to supporting the world's most vulnerable families and ensuring that they are not forced to confront impossible choices.
The assertion has meanwhile received unequivocal support by a number of HIV/AIDS campaigners who are calling for concerted efforts to assist the most vulnerable.
"One of the universal impacts of HIV and AIDS on households is to divert expenditure to the illness and other care needs of a sick person," said the Executive Director of Child, Youth, Family and Social Development at the Human Sciences Research Council in South Africa, Linda Richter.
Chris Desmond, research associate with the FXB Centre for Health and Human Rights at the Harvard School of Public Health, also contributed to that analysis, saying: "You can get treatment to people, but if they're hungry, it's going to have limited effect.
You can offer services, but if people can't afford to get to the services, there's no point in offering them.
" For his part, Kolker of UNICEF noted that helping vulnerable children - including orphans and others at risk - is UNICEF's priority.
In Lesotho, one of the countries hardest hit by the AIDS pandemic, half the population lives below the poverty line.
Lesotho's Child Grants Programme, a UNICEF-supported pilot initiative, gets cash to those in need, including children who have been orphaned by AIDS.
The programme is a prime example of social protection.
Its cash grants are targeted to households in areas with high maternal and infant mortality rates.
"We have children looking after families and people not looking after their health," said Lesotho's Minister of Health and Social Welfare, Dr.
Mphu Ramatlapeng, referring to households in which children as young as 12 years of age care for younger siblings.
Around 950 households - comprising over 2,370 orphans and vulnerable children - are currently benefiting from the small quarterly grants.
The pilot programme will be refined for a phased rollout in other districts of the country by 2011.
In the longer term, the government plans to absorb the programme into its national budget.
Whether through cash grants or food deliveries in times of crisis, social protection can provide families with the strength to survive and get critical care when confronted with HIV and AIDS, said 'Children and AIDS: Fourth Stocktaking Report 2009'.
The report assesses progress made for all children affected by AIDS and takes an honest look at where efforts work, where they fall short and where work may be improved.
Amidst an economic downturn that is global in scope, the stocktaking report stresses the need for a continued commitment to the long-term goal of world free of AIDS.