The Red Cross issued a warning of “a silent tsunami” wiping out an entire generation as it launched a campaign on Wednesday to help millions of African children orphaned or otherwise affected by HIV/AIDS.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies estimates 12.3 million African children have lost one or both parents to AIDS and the figure could double by 2010.
Others are left caring for sick parents no longer able to provide for their families, slashing children’s chances of a decent education and making them more vulnerable to abuse and prostitution, it said.
“A silent tsunami is wiping away an entire generation, leaving millions of children at risk,” Emma Kundishora of Zimbabwe’s Red Cross said in a statement.
“If we do not do something today, we will lose the administrators, business leaders, workers and customers of tomorrow. We have to start investing in these children now,” Kundishora said.
The campaign across 10 southern African countries aims to step up HIV/AIDS prevention measures as well as the Red Cross’s programmes of support and home-based care for children affected by the pandemic.
The Red Cross called for closer coordination with other organisations to improve the care given to AIDS orphans within their own communities.
“Some children have terminally ill parents and therefore have to nurse them, and sometimes are sick themselves. Other children have psychological trauma,” Cynthia Mpati, director of the South African government’s national school nutrition programme, said at the campaign’s launch in Johannesburg.
AIDS has orphaned more than 4 million children in southern Africa, the epicentre of the global HIV/AIDS pandemic.
South Africa has the highest single caseload, with more than 5 million of its 45 million people estimated to be infected. Next door, tiny Swaziland has the world’s highest infection rate, with two in five adults carrying HIV.
Aid workers say AIDS is affecting all levels of community and economic life, killing skilled workers and family breadwinners at the most productive phases of their lives and robbing rural communities of agricultural workers and skills normally passed from generation to generation.
“If we don’t prepare the children, if we don’t train them ... it’s the future workforce which is at stake,” said Francoise Le Goff, regional head of the Red Cross in southern Africa, in a short film on the devastating effects of AIDS on children.
Revision date: June 18, 2011
Last revised: by Jorge P. Ribeiro, MD