Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu has joined members of the Working Group on Orphans and Vulnerable Children calling on the UK government to put the rights of children at the heart of its new strategy for tackling HIV/AIDS throughout the world. They have a particular concern for the poorest countries and communities.
The call from the Nobel Peace Laureate and others from church and development agencies cooperating on the issue coincided with World AIDS Day (Saturday 1 December). Dr Tutu has also personally highlighted his concern about the churches' "obsession" with negative views on sexuality.
In 2004 the British government made a pledge to place the needs of children at the centre of its international response to HIV and AIDS. The cornerstone of that promise was a financial commitment to spend 10 per cent of its HIV/AIDS budget on affected children.
The UK is now revising its international strategy and campaigners say that there is a real danger that children will slip off the political agenda.
Crucially, they point out, there is still no guarantee from the government that the funding commitment to children will remain.
Speaking in the House of Commons recently, Gareth Thomas, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development, stated that the government would "continue to keep the matter in view." But the Working Party says this is not enough.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu declared last week: "AIDS is having a devastating effect on children. Already 15 million have lost parents because of AIDS and face an uncertain future. The UK is one of only three countries in the world which provides specific funding for children affected by AIDS. This has been crucial in putting children at the forefront of the UK's response to the AIDS pandemic and must be continued."
Almost every minute of every day a child is born with HIV. These babies account for the vast majority of the 2.5 million children living with HIV. Yet, globally, just 11 per cent of pregnant women with HIV have access to a cheap and effective treatment that can drastically reduce the number of babies being born with HIV.
There are a further 15 million children who have lost one or both parents to AIDS and millions more have been made vulnerable because their caregivers are affected by HIV/AIDS. These children often face an uncertain future and are less likely to have adequate food, education or access to health services.
Earlier this year the UK Government, along with other G8 leaders, promised to help raise the $1.5 billion needed to stop babies being born with HIV; the $1.8 billion needed to provide treatment for all children with HIV; as well as provide care for ten million orphans and vulnerable children in Africa.
The revision of the UK HIV and AIDS Strategy provides the best opportunity for the UK Government to say how it will keep these promises. Losing the UK's leadership on children and AIDS is simply not an option, say campaigners, as it will leave some of the most vulnerable without access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support.
Members of The Working Group on Orphans and Vulnerable Children: include: Christian Aid, CAFOD (the catholic Fund for Overseas Development), Religions for Peace UK, SOS Children's Villages, Street Child Africa, Tearfund, Uganda AIDS Action Fund, UNICEF UK, VSO and World Vision UK.