Sunday, October 22, 2006

ETHIOPIA: Nearly half of the children orphaned by HIV/AIDS

Ethiopia has one of the largest populations of orphans in the world with nearly half of the children having lost at least one of their parents. A government official said on Tuesday that HIV/AIDS, disease, hunger and poverty threatened to drive the number of orphaned children from 11 percent to 43 percent of the 45 million children in Ethiopia by 2010.

This could mean some 19 million children will have lost one or both of their parents, according to the figures, said Bulti Gutema, the head of the government's taskforce on the problem of orphans and vulnerable children. He said the figures were based on projections by the health ministry.

Bulti said antiretroviral drugs are vital in curbing the explosion but less than five percent got the drugs. Cheap antibiotics costing less than US $0.03 cents could also cut the numbers of child deaths from HIV/AIDS in the country by half but less than one per cent of the children got them, he added."This is a huge problem," he said at the launch of a new initiative to highlight the problem and bridge the massive funding gap that exists.

The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) estimate that looking after each orphaned child in Ethiopia would cost around $300 a year, totalling some $1.38 billion. But the organisation has less than $10 million available even though Ethiopia has one of the largest populations of orphans in the world. Some 300,000 children already live on the streets, according to the UN body.Bjorn Ljungqvist, head of UNICEF Ethiopia said the scale of the crisis was daunting.

"It is easy to stand and look at the problem from a distance and wring our hands at how big and impossible the problem is," he said. "But we must confront this."

The warning came as UNICEF launched a global campaign focusing on the enormous impact of HIV/AIDS on children. Worldwide, fewer than five percent of HIV-positive children receive treatment and millions of children who have lost parents to the disease go without support. There are currently 4.6 million orphans in Ethiopia - with around 540,000 of them having been orphaned by the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

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