Hidden in among the number of deaths and people living with AIDS is this number: 16.6 million.
An 'orphan' is defined by the United Nations as a child who has 'lost one or both parents'. Worldwide, it is estimated that more than 16 million children under 18 have been orphaned by AIDS. Around 14.8 million of these children live in sub-Saharan Africa.In some countries, these orphans account for more that half of all orphans in the nation. For these children, without the AIDS epidemic, their families would still be intact.
The impact of these orphans is hard to calculate. In Nigeria alone, there were 2.5 millions AIDS orphans in 2009, or almost 2% of the total population of the country. In addition to the stress of watching a parent die, these children often have to become income earners for their families, face separation from siblings and stigma from the community. They often end up leaving school, face greater economic, health and nutrition problems than their peers and may suffer from higher depression rates. In all, it's a recipe for disaster as a generation of children is being neglected, undereducated and relegated to extreme poverty.
The first step in handling this problem is to teach prevention. We must also increase access to antiretroviral treatments and last find ways to support those already orphaned by providing access to education and health care.
We may never find of cure for HIV/AIDS, but we do know how to prevent transmission. We must educate people worldwide in condom use and remove the stigma associated with the disease. As much as I don't care for the Pope, his recent endorsement of condom use for male prostitutes is a first, baby, step in the right direction. It overlooks the fact that just over half of all adults living with HIV/AIDS worldwide are women and that the primary mode of transmission in Africa is not through same-sex contact but heterosexual contact.
So, on this day we remember those we have lost to this scourge and those still living with HIV/AIDS. Find a charity that you feel supports HIV/AIDS prevention. Here's a short list: