November 30 2004
When parents have to leave their children behind
1 December - World AIDS Day
29/11/2004 - World AIDS Day on December 1 serves to highlight the importance of fighting the worldwide epidemic, which will orphan an estimated 25 million children by 2010*. An individual human tragedy lies behind every single AIDS statistic.
In mid-2004, a little girl named Violet** found a new home at the SOS Children's Village in Arusha, Tanzania. She had been brought there by her HIV positive father, whose condition had worsened although he had sold all of his property in order to buy anti-retroviral drugs. His wife had died as a result of AIDS two years earlier. In his poignant last words to the children's village director, Violet's father said: "Now at least when I die, I will die in peace."
But thousands of HIV/AIDS affected parents worldwide will not have the peace of knowing their children will be properly cared for when they perish. With AIDS being the fourth biggest cause of death, the epidemic has orphaned an estimated 14 million children worldwide - a figure expected to rise to 25 million by 2010*.
One of the goals of SOS Children's Villages is to keep existing families together whenever, and for as long, as possible. So when Anmaz**, an HIV positive mother of two whose husband had died three years earlier due to AIDS, asked for her children to be admitted to the SOS Children's Village in Harrar, Ethiopia, the organisation offered her an alternative solution.
In order to enable Anmaz to live her remaining precious years with her children in comfort and security, SOS Children's Villages provided a monthly allowance for school fees and essentials such as food and soap, as well as providing home-based counselling. At the same time, the organisation promised Anmaz that her children would find a new home at the SOS Children's Village in Harrar after she had passed away.
Over the years, SOS Children's Villages has set up various programmes in affected regions to support not only AIDS orphans, but also to assist families affected by the disease. Most of these are based in the worst-hit region of sub-Saharan Africa, which is home to around 10% of the world's population but where more than 60% of all people living with HIV/AIDS reside*.
In sub-Saharan Africa, SOS Children's Villages ran HIV/AIDS programmes in fifteen countries in 2004, providing support for some 14,000 beneficiaries in 32 locations. A further 25 locations are to be established by the end of 2005.
Under these SOS Children's Village programmes, HIV tests are administered while specially trained local counsellors undertake pre and post test counselling. At some SOS Social Centres, anti-retroviral drugs are provided either for free to selected beneficiaries, or at a much subsidised cost.
In September 2004, the SOS Medical Centre in Lilongwe started dispensing antiretroviral drugs in collaboration with the Malawian Ministry of Health. Under this scheme, twenty-five new clients will receive the anti-retroviral drugs each month for the next three years to total 900 beneficiaries in all.
Among the first clients at the SOS Medical Centre was Rachel**, a widow and mother of four whose youngest child is five-years-old. Rachel began taking anti-retroviral drugs from another centre in July 2004 but was forced to quit the treatment one month later for financial reasons. Rachel has now resumed taking the anti-retroviral drugs which will enable her to continue caring for her children.
When SOS Children's Villages launched its work in the Ukraine in late 2003, an HIV/AIDS counselling centre was among the projects inaugurated in the Podol district of Kiev. In the Ukraine, some 360,000 people are HIV/AIDS infected - or 1% of the population - and the rate of new infections is increasing dramatically*. More than 70% of those infected in the Ukraine are injecting drug users who became infected through the sharing of syringe needles*.
Lena**, a mother of three whose youngest child is just over a year old, is HIV positive and one such former drug user who is now a beneficiary of the SOS Children's Village programme.
Lena has given up on drugs and is doing her best to build up a home for her children. "I can be sure that if I need to leave my kids at the counselling centre they are in a safe place, and I can work to have some money," said Lena. "I'm really grateful to SOS Children's Villages; they have helped me and my kids."
* Source: UNAIDS, WHO, UNICEF
** Names have been changed in order to protect identities