Coenraad de Beer is a Programme Development advisor for SOS Children's Villages. From 18 - 23 July, he attended the XVIII International AIDS Conference in Vienna, Austria.
Mr. De Beer, what is the extent of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the world today?
HIV/AIDS still has a huge impact in the developing world today, particularly on children. The nature of HIV/AIDS is that it affects the family structure, particularly the parents of children. As a result of that, many children lose parental care, because parents pass away due to HIV/AIDS. That places huge pressure on the extended family as well as communities to care for children. Regions that are particularly affected are Sub-Saharan Africa but it is also becoming evident that it's a growing concern in Eastern Europe as well as Asia.
What does the International AIDS Conference contribute to the fight against HIV/AIDS ?
The AIDS conference is a great platform to put HIV and AIDS on the world agenda, particularly regarding clinical research and the improvement of medications and prevention methods that are effective in the fight against HIV/AIDS. It is also the perfect place to tackle social issues relating to the pandemic, that have a severe effect on families and children. It provides a platform for organisations to share information and to form networks and partnerships in creating a global response to mitigate the impact of HIV and AIDS.
One outstanding outcome of this year's conference is that the importance of universal access to prevention, treatment, care, and support to all those in need, is now firmly on the agenda and is supported by the international community and key NGOs across the globe. This includes the prevention of parent to child transmission. We must ensure that children and their parents have access to treatment. The message is: treatment is prevention. When you treat you can reduce the transmission of HIV as well as prevent that children lose their families.
The conference takes places once every two years. What needs to be done in the next two years?
One of the priorities that need to be tackled within the next two years is the strengthening of community responses to support families that are affected by AIDS. That requires a number of stakeholders across all kind of disciplines to work together, to form an effective response to support families impacted by HIV and AIDS. This places a responsibility on the shoulders of NGOs like ourselves but also governments to step up efforts to getting responses into place within our programmes.
What is the role of SOS Children's Villages in this struggle?
As an NGO, SOS Children's Villages is focused on the support of children within their families. As an organisation, we believe a child's development is best supported in a family environment. The emerging global response to HIV and AIDS is centered around families. It includes looking at the treatment options for families but also looking at the social support systems, i.e. the community network supporting the families. SOS is a key player in supporting children through the programmes that we already have in place, particularly through our family strengthening programmmes. Our responsibility is to scale up our programmes in affected areas and where we have programmes related to health, like SOS medical centres, we need to find ways to bring our family strengthening programmes and our medical programmes together to tackle the challenges that we face.
What is the most pressing priority that needs to be adressed?
One problem that needs to be solved as soon as possible, is the lack of access to treatment. We need to prevent parents and children from dying as a consequence of secondary infections related to HIV and AIDS. It is totally unnecessary, it can be avoided. Governments and NGOs alike need to do everything in their power to ensure that children and parents have access to treatment.
Why is this not being done?
There is a number of reasons why this is not being done: Firstly, limited access to funding and resources and secondly, a lack of coordination in terms of getting resources to benefit affected regions. It also has to do with competency issues on a governmental level as well as non-governmental levels and also a lack of coordination between various stakeholders to ensure a better coverage in ensuring access to treatment.