| UNAIDS and WHO estimates for 2004 show that there is a huge and growing number of orphaned children in Africa. Estimates for 26 African countries suggest that the number of orphans from any cause will increase by around 50% between 1990 and 2010.
The extent of the epidemic in Africa makes it qualitatively different from other regions. Traditionally, it used to be said “there is no such thing as an orphan in Africa”. Children who lost one or both parents were incorporated into a relative’s family. But the combination of increased orphan numbers, reduced numbers of caregivers and weakened extended family systems, combined with poverty, means that vulnerable children are more likely to fall through the extended family safety net. Rising numbers of orphaned children of all descriptions, not just orphans due to AIDS or other causes are suffering as a result of the epidemic.
Orphaned and vulnerable children are being affected economically, socially and psychologically. Economic and social impacts include malnutrition, reduced access to education and health care, child labour, migration and homelessness. Psychological impacts include depression, guilt, anger and fear caused by parental illness and death. The social, economic and psychological impacts of AIDS on children combine to increase their vulnerability to a range of consequences including HIV infection, lack of education, poverty, child labour, exploitation and unemployment.
The National HIV/AIDS and Reproductive Health Survey (NARHS, 2003) indicated that Nigeria has one of the highest number of AIDS orphans in the world, with an orphan population of about 1.4 million children. According to the survey, the planning status of births in Nigeria showed that 10% of all pregnancies are unwanted while 22% are unplanned. Also, there is a high level of misconception about how to avoid HIV with only 19.5% of respondents knowing all the five UNAIDS indicators on transmission. Moreover, the attitude of Nigerians towards family members living with HIV/AIDS is discriminative. According to the NARHS report, 40% of males and 52% of females in Nigerian do not care about PLWHA as well as orphans and vulnerable children by HIV/AIDS.
According to recent statistics, Benue State has the highest prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS. However, the state is at the exponential and explosive face of the epidemic with potentially grave consequences. One of which is the increased number of orphans and vulnerable children with or without education.
Strengthen social economic, nutritional and psychosocial support program at all levels for orphans and vulnerable children.
Impart mitigation; care and support of OVC should be embarked on by Government, NGOs and stakeholders.
Policy should be made to protect the interest of OVC against discrimination and stigmatization in schools and the society.
Scholarship schemes and grants for indigent OVC for education should be established and properly monitored.
Establish HIV/AIDS OVC desk officers and focal points in all work places.
Create increased awareness of the plight of OVC at all tiers of government to enhance support for OVC.
The plights of OVC hardly need preaching to be appreciated. It is the collective responsibility of the government, the law makers, CSOs, NGOs, FBOs and stakeholders for the effective mitigation of the impacts of HIV/AIDS in our community.
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