Rich countries must do more to protect African children from HIV/AIDS, the new head of the United Nations children’s agency said on Tuesday.
Ann Veneman said she chose southern Africa for her first foreign trip since taking over at UNICEF three weeks ago to highlight the devastation AIDS has wreaked on the region and to push the killer epidemic to the top of the world agenda.
“We thought it was very important on my first mission at UNICEF that I visit Africa and in particular we chose southern Africa ... to highlight the difficulties in these countries because of HIV/AIDS,” Veneman told in Swaziland.
“Children are the future of the world, the future of this continent. It is so important that we have ways of keeping them healthy ... and protecting them from HIV/AIDS.”
After her stop in the mountainous kingdom, which has the world’s highest HIV infection rate, Veneman will also visit hard-hit South Africa and Malawi.
More than 40 percent of adults in Swaziland have HIV, rising to a half of those aged 19-30, according to UNICEF figures.
Veneman, a former U.S. agriculture secretary under President George W. Bush, said individuals and governments in rich countries should make Africa’s children a higher priority.
“Much more could be done, we all know much more could be done,” she said.
Common HIV/AIDS prevention programs include family planning and sex education for teenagers. Such programs have been given a cool reception in the United States, where the Bush administration has sought to promote abstinence instead.
Veneman visited rural projects including a clinic targeting mother-to-child HIV transmission, a school where children grow vegetables to feed themselves and a community centre for AIDS orphans.
Organisations such as UNICEF hope to harness some of the outpouring of generosity sparked by last year’s tsunami in Asia.
“It’s a great opportunity to say to the tsunami donor, ‘You were generous enough to give resource to help tsunami victims, what about all the issues affecting Africa?’” Veneman said.
Revision date: July 7, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD