While there are many issues surrounding HIV and AIDS, poverty and gender are two factors at the heart of the epidemic. HIV and AIDS have hit the most vulnerable and the poorest of the poor, who tend to be women and children. When women are poor, children don’t receive proper nutrition, health care or education. This puts the youth at risk. Yet the church, along with other organizations, is responding to these issues. There is hope.
Women and girls
The epidemic’s impact is particularly hard on women and girls as the burden of care usually falls on them. Girls drop out of school to care for sick parents or for younger siblings. Older women often take on the burden of caring for ailing adult children and later, when these adult children die, adopt the parental role for the orphaned children. They are often also responsible for producing an income or food crops. Older women caring for orphans and sick children may be isolated socially because of AIDS-related stigma and discrimination. Stigma also means that family support is not a certainty when women become HIV-positive; they are too often rejected, and may have their property seized when their husband dies.
Poverty and hunger
In some of the worst-affected countries, the living standards of many poor people were already deteriorating before they experienced the full impact of the epidemic. In general, AIDS-affected households are more likely to suffer severe poverty than non-affected households; this is true for countries with low prevalence as well as those with high rates.
An orphan is defined as a child under the age of 18 who has had at least one parent die. A child whose mother has died is known as a maternal orphan; a child whose father has died is a paternal orphan. A child who has lost both parents is a double orphan.
The worst orphan crisis is in sub-Saharan Africa, where 12 million children have lost one or both parents to AIDS. By 2010, this number is expected to climb to more than 18 million. As staggering as these numbers are, the crisis will worsen if parents struck by HIV do not get access to life-prolonging treatment and effective prevention services.
Today’s youth generation is the largest in history: nearly half of the global population is less than 25 years old (UNFPA, 2003). They have not known a world without AIDS.
Young people between the ages of 15 and 24 are both the most threatened — globally accounting for half of all new cases of HIV — and the greatest hope for turning the tide against AIDS. The future of the epidemic will be shaped by their actions. Experience proves this. The few countries that have successfully decreased national HIV prevalence have achieved these gains mostly by encouraging safer behavior choices among young people.