ECD and the HIV/AIDS Pandemic in Africa

Article excerpt

Abstract: An unprecedented number of young children in Sub-Saharan Africa are being adversely affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic, yet programs specifically designed to meet the developmental needs of orphaned and vulnerable children (OVC) from birth to age 8 are rare. This article summarizes the daunting array of challenges facing young OVC in Sub-Saharan Africa, and profiles research and action projects undertaken by four members of the inaugural graduate-level cohort of the ECDVU to promote high-quality developmentally appropriate ECD care for young OVC in their respective countries. The projects underscore the pressing need for community-based, national and international stakeholders to reach beyond the escalating immediate demands for survival-level support for these children--culturally appropriate ECD training and resources for both over-burdened extended family and institution-based caregivers of young OVC must also be promoted as essential priorities. Higher levels of physical, cognitive, and emotional well-being and increased lifetime learning and earning are associated with good early childhood care; timely provision of integrated quality ECD training and care is urgently needed if today's young OVC are to mature into productive and contributing members to Sub-Saharan African society in their adult years.

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UNICEF has cited HIV/AIDS as one of the top five concerns currently facing children in developing nations (together with child survival, war, exploitation, and insufficient investment). In the UNICEF New Year 2004 press release, Executive Director Carol Bellamy made special note of the extraordinary number of children in Sub-Saharan Africa negatively impacted by the HIV/AIDS pandemic: "Some 14 million children have been orphaned by AIDS, 11 million of whom reside in Sub-Saharan Africa. By 2010, the number of children in that region who have lost parents to AIDS is expected to have risen to 20 million" (UNICEF, 2003). However, action to meet the needs of orphans--particularly young orphans from birth to age 8--is thus far falling far short of what is needed to ensure a healthy, capable cohort of adults 15 years into the future. Recognizing the gravity of this situation, several ECDVU participants elected to undertake projects relating ECD to HIV/AIDS. This section of this special issue provides an overview of the particular ways that the lives of children in their early childhood years (from birth to age 8) in Sub-Saharan Africa are affected by HIV/AIDS and profiles work undertaken by these ECDVU participants in various African countries to bolster the well-being and holistic development of young children orphaned by the pandemic.

Background

Following his official tour of Ethiopia in May 2004, Stephen Lewis, UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, made the following observations regarding the negative impact of HIV/AIDS on Ethiopia's children:

    I regret to say that Ethiopia is only now beginning to understand
    the vast extent of the growing orphan crisis. The country is simply
    unprepared, at this time, to cope with the avalanche of children
    orphaned by AIDS; it's estimated that there are already a million
    orphans in Ethiopia. The Prime Minister pointed out to me that
    there is still some capacity, in the rural areas, to absorb
    orphans into the community through the extended family system.
    But he acknowledged that in the urban centers, where the great
    majority of orphans are to be found, there was as yet little
    capacity to respond.
      Frankly, unless the country devises an almost instantaneous
    strategic plan for orphans, backed by massive resources and focused
    intervention, Ethiopia will soon be reeling from the onslaught of
    abandoned, rootless, bewildered and despairing kids of all ages. It
    will feel like a raging torrent of child trauma to which everyone
    responded too late. Tens of thousands of young lives will be lost
    and ruined. …