The Global AIDS Crisis and its Impact on Children
Today, the estimated number of people living with HIV and AIDS nears 40 million — roughly the population of Spain. While AIDS is believed to have killed more than 28 million people, it has devastated the lives of millions more. More than 15 million children worldwide have lost at least one parent — if not both — to AIDS and related diseases like tuberculosis.
Children as Caretakers
Because poverty keeps many from access to health care and because of the stigma attached to AIDS, children often become their parents' primary — or only — caretaker. The time, energy, and financial resources necessary to care for dying parents takes its toll, and many children must leave school.
Educational and Economic Impact
The loss of educational opportunities for these children can be fatal. As their dying parents are unable to provide economically, and eventually pass away, children must often take their parents' places as family breadwinners. According to UNICEF, children who have lost their parents have substantially lower education levels than their counterparts with intact families. Without proper education, the opportunities to generate income grow sparser and more dangerous.
Malnutrition and AIDS
Nutrition suffers as many people, particularly in hard-hit rural areas, are subsistence farmers. The physical rigors of farming often are too heavy for those with compromised immune systems. When health fails, so do crops — and a vicious cycle of hunger and sickness begins. The malnutrition that becomes fatal to sick parents also affects children and their development. Children affected by the combined impact of AIDS and malnutrition are less likely to thrive physically, emotionally, educationally, or economically.
Psychological Impact on Children
In addition to the physical and educational impact, children are often scarred psychologically as they face death within their own families on a regular basis. Compounding that trauma, many cultures stigmatize those living with AIDS — and their family members. Children of those infected with HIV often are alienated by extended families and communities. Even after their parents die, those who should care for them often turn them away for fear of further infection. The effect on children's mental health can be devastating, leaving them with symptoms of what we know as depression and post-traumatic stress.
Social Safety Net Failing
In hard-hit communities, where often an entire generation of parents has died from AIDS and related illnesses, the traditional social safety net has become strained. In many places, it has all but disintegrated. In some villages, only children and a generation of grandparents remain. The most vulnerable members of communities are left to care for themselves and each other.
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