Dr Elissa Kennedy is an Australian doctor who worked as a volunteer with the Christian Brothers at the Ruben clinic in Nairobi, Kenya as part of the Edmund Rice Volunteer Scheme in 2006 and again in 2007. She returned to Africa in 2008 to work as a volunteer with the Brothers at Yambio in southern Sudan.
She provided the following endorsement of the Caritas/EAA campaign which is supported by Edmund Rice International.
Dr Elissa Kennedy and Br Daniel Lyimo at work in Yambio, Sudan. (Photo does not imply the HIV status of the persons depicted.)
“In 2007 there were 2.1 million children living with HIV, the overwhelming majority of whom lived in the developing world. Every day more than 1000 children under the age of 15 years become newly infected and another 800 die from HIV-related illness and AIDS – half before their second birthday. Many of these deaths would have been prevented with access to early diagnosis and antiretroviral medication (ARVs), yet less than 15% of the world’s children who require HIV care receive this life-saving treatment.
More than 90% of the world’s HIV infected children live in sub-Saharan Africa, and it is there that I have experienced first-hand the devastating consequences of untreated HIV infection in children. It is a tragedy marked by constant illness, malnutrition, suffering and death, as well as the stigma, isolation and despair of families. I have watched tiny bodies racked with disease and pain finally succumb, young kids whose innocence and childhood have been stolen, and families shattered by grief. But I have also seen the difference access to comprehensive care can make. It restores health and hope. It gives children a chance to be children. And it offers the promise of a future. No child deserves the life-sentence of HIV, and no child need become just another statistic.
Globally, much greater efforts are required to enable early diagnosis of infants, to improve access to paediatric ARVs and to strengthen programs to prevent HIV infection in young women and protect their babies. We already have the technology and experience to be able to provide comprehensive care to children, what is required is the political will, mobilisation of resources and equitable access for all.
HIV remains the single greatest factor in the reversal of gains in human development, and threatens to devastate generations. Every new HIV infection is a tragedy and every death a failure of the international community’s duty of care to the world’s most vulnerable children. I strongly support this campaign and urge you to add your voice to calls for a greater focus on children living with HIV. Children have been largely forgotten in the fight against HIV – please ensure that they do not continue to be so and help give millions of children a future free from AIDS.”