Washington, DC — Event marks UNAIDS' renewed focus on efforts to end HIV stigma
The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) will deliver a statement at the UNAIDS Program Coordinating Board (PCB) on non-discrimination during the 31st UNAIDS PCB meeting being held in Geneva this week.
"The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation considers stigma and discrimination to be a key problem facing people living with HIV - and an obstacle to effective prevention, treatment, and care," said Charles Lyons, EGPAF president and CEO. "We are pleased to have this opportunity to shed light on the discrimination faced by children living with HIV and their parents, and highlight how it can negatively impact children's rights to healthcare, education, and overall quality of life."
The thematic segment of the PCB meeting focuses on non-discrimination. Participants will examine policy and programmatic actions that reduce HIV-related discrimination in various sectors, including healthcare, employment, education, and the community.
Nearly 3.5 million children under 15 are currently living with HIV. Many are not aware that they are living with the virus, or what it means, even though they may be taking medication and receiving treatment. Parents and relatives often keep a child's status hidden to protect them from stigma and discrimination. EGPAF has created "Ariel Clubs," where boys and girls living with HIV can forge friendships with other children living with similar experiences, challenges, fears, and hopes in a safe, non-judgmental environment.
"Ultimately, the clubs teach them that they are not alone, and that it is possible to live a happy, fruitful, and fulfilled life with HIV, despite the discrimination they face," said Lyons.
While the clubs are based in sub-Saharan Africa, where the epidemic has hit children the hardest, discrimination knows no geographic borders. Last year, an honors student in Pennsylvania was denied enrollment in a private boarding school, despite the fact that he met all the necessary qualifications. The school initially rejected his application based on his HIV status, but later reversed that decision
"The world has come a long way fighting pediatric AIDS," added Lyons. "Many years of research and advocacy on pediatric drug development have led to a whole generation of children living with HIV who are growing and thriving, and millions more who could, with full access to treatment. It is our responsibility to now provide these children not just with a future, but a future in which they can fulfill their potential without fear of discrimination."