March 12, 2004
"The numbers are just mind-boggling," said Sandra L. Thurman, president of IAT and the first presidential envoy for AIDS under President Clinton. "We can't even begin to get our heads around the social and anthropological consequences of this, because we are just at the beginning of this epidemic," said Thurman on the sidelines of a weekend Caribbean health conference that ended Sunday.
Besides social stigma and emotional stress, AIDS orphans suffer loss of food, health care, education and security, and are more vulnerable to exploitation.
Every day, more than 2,000 infants contract HIV at birth through mother-to-child transmission (MTCT), and most die by the age of five. IAT figures show that 580,000 infants died of AIDS in 2001. MTCT risk can be greatly reduced with a one-time dose of nevirapine, available for $8. Mother's milk is another primary HIV transmission route. Researchers say study in this area is urgently needed, as most women worldwide have no choice about how to nourish their babies.
Mothers should not be overlooked in the AIDS orphan crisis, said Thurman. "We have to try to keep these mothers alive, because we know from decades of research that every day we can keep a child with its mother, the more viable that child is -- physically and psychologically."
The IAT report, conducted in conjunction with the Children Affected by AIDS Foundation, will be submitted to Congress on April 7.