HIV/AIDS Hampering Progress In Africa

Armen Hareyan's picture

The number of deaths among children under age five worldwide reacheda record low of nearly 10 million in 2006 because of global efforts topromote malaria prevention measures, childhood immunization andbreast-feeding; however, HIV/AIDS has hampered efforts to prevent suchdeaths in parts of Africa, UNICEF officials said Wednesday, Reuters reports.

UNICEFfigures show that 9.7 million children under age five died last year,4.8 million of whom lived in sub-Saharan Africa. Worldwide, the deathrate for children under age five in 2006 was 72 deaths per 1,000 livebirths. The 2006 rate is a 23% decrease from 1990, when 93 per 1,000children died before the age of five, according to the agency. Some ofthe leading causes of death among children were HIV/AIDS, malaria,pneumonia, premature births, birth defects, diarrhea and measles.

Officials credit several public health initiatives for the reduction in child deaths, including campaigns to:

  • Persuade mothers to breast-feed their infants exclusively during the first six months after birth;
  • Provide antiretroviral treatment to HIV-positive children;
  • Deliver insecticide-treated nets to prevent the spread of malaria;
  • Provide vitamin A supplements to children; and
  • Increase childhood immunization against a variety of diseases (Dunham, Reuters, 9/12).


Accordingto UNICEF, the figures come from household surveys conducted in 2005 orearlier, so they do not reflect the influx of funds channeled todeveloping countries by the Global Fund To Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief; and the President's Malaria Initiative, the New York Timesreports. UNICEF officials said for that reason, the next five-yearstudy should reveal a more significant improvement in child mortalityrates (McNeil, New York Times, 9/13).


"This is a historic moment," UNICEF Executive Director Ann Veneman,said, adding, "More children are surviving today than ever before. Nowwe must build on this public health success to push for theachievement" of the U.N. Millennium Development Goals, which seek to reduce the global infant mortality rate by two-thirds by 2015 (UNICEF release,9/13). Veneman said that the countries showing the most improvementfocused on extending simple initiatives to rural areas and utilizingless costly prevention measures rather than expensive care, the Times reports.

"Wefeel we're at a tipping point now," Peter Salama, UNICEF's chiefmedical officer, said, adding, "In a few years' time, it will alltranslate into a very exciting drop" (New York Times, 9/13).

Experts also acknowledged that HIV/AIDS has impeded efforts to reduce child deaths in Africa, the Washington Postreports. "Over the past 10 to 15 years in most sub-Saharan Africancountries, there has been basically no discernable improvement in childmortality," Ruth Levine -- vice president of the Center for Global Development,a Washington, D.C.-based not-for-profit research organization -- said.She added that there is "justified hope that things are improving now,"but there are so "many challenges, particularly in southern Africawhere they are dealing with an AIDS pandemic" (Lee, Washington Post, 9/13).

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