U.N.: More Than 2 Million Children Have AIDS

More than 2 million children under the age of 15 are living with HIV, almost all in sub-Saharan Africa where there is no access to treatment and death almost certain, seven leading child advocacy organizations said.

"We are failing children," said Dean Hirsch, chairman of the Global Movement for Children, which issued an urgent appeal to governments, donors and the pharmaceutical industry to recognize a child's right to treatment as fundamental.

The movement, made up of seven organizations, released a report Friday that painted a grim picture of the impact of the disease on children: 700,000 children were infected with the HIV virus in 2005, bringing the total to 2.3 million, and 570,000 died of AIDS — one every minute.

Less than 5 percent of HIV-positive children have access to the pediatric AIDS treatment they desperately need, the report said.

"The deaths of these children are not inevitable," said Hirsch, president of World Vision International, a Christian relief organization. "An HIV positive child can respond to anti-retroviral treatment. So let's deliver on the promise — the promise of treatment for all by 2010."

Last year, world leaders at the U.N. summit and leaders of the seven richest industrialized nations and Russia pledged to come as close as possible to universal treatment by the end of the decade.

For this to happen, the report said special efforts must be made for children. The first step is providing drugs to pregnant women with HIV to prevent mother-to-child transmission — the way 90 percent of children with HIV became infected. Youngsters with the virus must also be given antibiotics and anti-retroviral drugs, it said.

"Without treatment, most children with HIV will die before their fifth birthday," the report said.

"Children are the missing face of the AIDS pandemic," said Ann Veneman, executive director of U.N. children's agency, lamenting that in the 25 years since AIDS started spreading around the globe, the world has looked at it primarily as a disease of adults.

The UNICEF executive director urged world leaders to keep their commitment to a massive scaling up of HIV prevention, treatment and care.

Millions of children "have watched their worlds shatter around them because of this disease, losing parents, teachers, a sense of security and hope for the future," Veneman said.

She called for simple diagnostic tests for young children, more and cheaper anti-retroviral drugs designed specifically for children to use, and improved health care systems in developing countries.

Charles MacCormack, president and CEO of Save the Children USA, said the percentage of girls and young women of childbearing age with HIV is increasing, and therefore the risk of mother-to-child transmission is increasing even though effective and affordable treatments have been available for the past 15 years.

African governments pledged to spend 15 percent of their national budgets on public health systems but "less than one-third of those countries have achieved that goal," MacCormack said. The Group of Eight also pledged significant increases in their funding for public health "and to date those pledges haven't been entirely kept either," he said.

"So we suffer this tragedy of hundreds of thousands of unnecessary child deaths each year because we have not found a way to make the investments and deliver the health facilities to those in greatest need," MacCormack said.

Veneman said a new AIDS report to be released Tuesday — the eve of the U.N. General Assembly Special Session on AIDS — will show that investing in AIDS treatment and testing is paying off in some areas with lower prevalence rates.