Vietnam on Wednesday opened the first-ever regional conference to focus specifically on the impact of HIV/AIDS on children.
"While we have made impressive efforts at achieving results to topple this epidemic ... we seem to be leaving some people behind," said World Health Organization Representative Hans Troedsson. "If there were some tendency that we leave the children behind in these global efforts, that would not only be unfortunate, it would be unacceptable."
The three-day conference has drawn some 250 delegates from U.N. agencies and non-governmental organizations to Hanoi to discuss what steps can be taken to limit the spread of the disease among youths and how to help children already infected or orphaned by it.
An estimated 1.5 million children have lost one or both parents to AIDS in the Asia Pacific region, according to UNAIDS figures. Another 121,000 children in the region had been infected by the disease by the end of 2004. An estimated 35,000 children need anti-retroviral drug treatment to survive.
Anupama Rao Singh, UNICEF regional director for East Asia and the Pacific, said that children must be a priority for countries tackling ways to fight the disease. "This region is at a crossroads. For any successful response, children and young people must be at the forefront," she said.
Singh said there needs to be increased prevention efforts targeting youth, more focus on the prevention of mother to child transmission, the provision of drugs to children suffering from the disease, and the creation of support groups for kids who have it or have been orphaned by it.
Although the conference focuses on East Asia and the Pacific, where HIV/AIDS is spreading fastest in the world, representatives from South Asian countries were also present.
At least eight children from around the region spoke out during the morning session on behalf of other youth about their demands, reports the AP.