Dreams of children caught on tape from across the globe set the stage for the launch of the first ever Comprehensive Policy Framework for Children and AIDS in New Delhi on 31st July 2007.
HIV/AIDS has shattered many of these dreams and is redefining the very meaning of childhood for millions across the globe. It is depriving many of their human rights – of the care, love and affection of their parents; of their teachers and other role models; of education and options for the future; of protection against exploitation and abuse.
Children affected by HIV/AIDS include a relatively small number of children who are HIV-positive. However they include a far larger number who are not infected but whose parents are HIV-positive, or have died of AIDS. In addition, there is an even larger group of children and adolescents who are at heightened risk of HIV infection because they live in vulnerable, high risk and / or marginalized communities or are engaged in unsafe behaviour.
The Government of India is committed to preventing HIV infections and mitigating the medical impact of the virus on the lives of those who are already infected. However, there is a need for a comprehensive policy covering a broader agenda, spanning both the medical and socioeconomic dimensions of the epidemic as it affects children.
With this is view the government released the first ever Comprehensive Policy Framework for Children and AIDS at an event that brought together senior representatives of government, bilateral and multilateral donor agencies, UN agencies, non-governmental and faith-based organizations, representatives of the Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS and international experts.
Delivering the welcome address Dr. Sujata Rao, Director General and Additional Secretary, National AIDS Control Organization stated, “India has a unique opportunity to use her strengths – low prevalence, rapidly increasing ART coverage, strong government and family safety nets, growing recognition and advocacy for human rights and a robust media - to achieve what no other country has yet managed to do --- to free the next generation from the burden of AIDS
Sharing his views, Mr. Cecilio Adorna, UNICEF Representative to India, said, “The ultimate goal of this policy is to ensure that children affected by HIV/AIDS have the same opportunities as other children of the country. A child turned away from school because his or her parent is HIV-positive is no less deserving of protection against discrimination than children denied education because of their gender or caste. The UN system is totally committed to supporting the leadership in government to realise the objectives of this progressive policy”
Delivering the keynote address, Shri Naresh Dayal, Secretary Ministry of Health and Family Welfare said “The stigma and discrimination associated with the disease points to the need to develop a broader agenda. The Policy Framework is a call for action to provide medical, social and psychological support to children affected by AIDS.”
Highlighting some of the successful initiatives taken by the Ministry he pointed out, “The Paediatric ART Initiative was a landmark initiative launched in 2006. From 1800 children on adult doses, there are today nearly 6500 children under treatment. Nearly 19,000 children have been identified and listed for being put on treatment at the right time.”
He also stressed on health not only being limited to medicines, drugs and doctors. It is as much about not falling ill, living positively and having healthy habits. The Ministry is preparing to design a comprehensive health education campaign for school children that will basically seek to promote positive health values.
The Minister of Women and Child Development, Ms. Renuka Choudhary while releasing the Policy Framework, said, “This policy is a recognition of the fact that the overwhelming majority of children who are affected by HIV/AIDS are not infected themselves, and yet the virus often has a profound and permanent effect on their lives because their parents or a close family member is HIV positive. At the same time, it recognizes that these children are no different from other children whose futures are threatened by different kinds of disease and social exclusion.
“There are millions of children in this country, who live below poverty line and require support to access quality services The vulnerable children among the ‘children affected by HIV/AIDS’ will be part of this target group and the Ministry will cater to their needs in the same manner as for any other needy child. This has been recognized in the 11th five year plan and also the proposed schemes for child protection.”
She further added that her ministry is ready to take on the responsibility of supporting NACO in overcoming stigma and discrimination at the community, service delivery, or individual levels through effective campaigning and communication initiatives. The Ministry will support all such initiatives with the full commitment towards realizing the basic rights of all children.
This policy proposes a universal approach in addressing the needs of children affected by HIV/AIDS (including those who are HIV-positive themselves) by ensuring they have access to the same services and opportunities as other children in their communities, wherever possible, rather than providing targeted interventions.
It also provides a framework for action around prevention of HIV infection among children and adolescents, decreasing vulnerabilities and providing complete information and skills to adolescents to protect themselves from infection.
The policy implies closer collaboration between government departments, and between government and non-government service providers, and proposes coordinating mechanisms to ensure this collaboration is effective and beneficial to all children – including those who are HIV-positive or otherwise affected. NGOs in particular have a vital role to play in facilitating the strengthening of government services so that the rights of all children are provided for in the long term.
A Global and Regional Perspective and Rationale for the Policy was delivered by Arjan De Wagt, HIV /AIDS specialist from UNICEF, New York. Highlighting the global figures of children affected by HIV /AIDS he pointed to the insufficient response to the epidemic. The lack of progress he said was however not due to global commitments to the issue. He focused on the need to emphasize around the 4Ps and recognize the challenges in achieving results.