According to a new report from UNICEF (search) and UNAIDS (search), children under 15 account for 1 in 6 global AIDS-related deaths and 1 in 7 new global HIV infections. An estimated 15 million children have lost one or both parents to AIDS, but less than 10 percent receive any public support.
Every minute a child under the age of 15 dies as a result of AIDS, the report said.
Children are the "invisible face" of AIDS and are missing out on the help that is going to adults, Ann Veneman, UNICEF's executive director, said Monday.
"It is critical that the world unite for children and unite against AIDS," Veneman said. "The size of the problem is staggering, but the scale of the response has been inadequate."
At the official campaign launch on Tuesday, Veneman is scheduled to join U.N.Secretary-General Kofi Annan (search), UNICEF goodwill ambassador Sir Roger Moore (search), UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot and young people affected by AIDS. Launch events are also being held in India, El Salvador, Brazil, Mozambique, Djibouti, the Netherlands, Ireland, Trinidad and Tobago and Australia.
The campaign's message is simple: AIDS is a growing threat to children and if serious action isn't taken immediately the world will not achieve the U.N. Millennium Development Goal (search) of halting and reversing the AIDS pandemic by 2015.
According to the report, the children of sub-Saharan Africa have been hardest hit, accounting for more than 85 percent of all children under 15 living with the disease. The next largest group of youngsters with HIV and AIDS is in South and East Asia, but new HIV infections are increasing rapidly in Eastern Europe and parts of Central Asia.
"In Latin America, low national prevalence is disguising epidemics that are concentrated in major urban areas and among certain populations," the report said. "In countries in the Middle East and North Africa potential epidemics are being overlooked, in part because of cultural inhibitions against discussing sexual and reproductive health."
Veneman said the campaign to reduce HIV/AIDS among children is targeted at governments and policymakers. She urged countries to follow the example of the United States, Britain and most recently Ireland, which have earmarked part of the funds they contribute to the global fight against AIDS to youngsters.
Peter McDermott, chief of the HIV/AIDS division at the U.N. Children's Fund, said the campaign has set international goals, and UNICEF will work with UNAIDS, voluntary organizations, the private sector and governments to achieve them.
At present, over 600,000 babies are stillborn HIV positive every year. Of those, 500,000 die before their first birthday, he said. By 2010, the campaign expects to provide either antiretroviral treatment or a $10-a-year antibiotic to 80 percent of the children in need to improve their life expectancy.
Most importantly, McDermott said, the campaign will focus on prevention, because 15- to 24-year-olds now account for half of all HIV infections. By 2010, the campaign expects to achieve a 25 percent drop in infections by providing education, information and services to young people, he said.
By 2010, the campaign also aims to provide support for 12 million of the 15 million AIDS orphans, McDermott said.
"The magnitude of the problems of children affected by HIV/AIDS dwarfs the scale of the existing response," the report said. "Children and adolescents around the globe are increasingly at risk of infection, and many of those affected by HIV/AIDS are being left to grow up alone, grow up too soon, or to not grow up at all."
A global campaign is essential to work toward an AIDS-free generation where not one child will die of AIDS, be infected with the HIV virus, or lose a parent, teacher or friend, it said.