VATICAN - CHILDREN AND AIDS: “Fathers have eaten green grapes thus their children’s teeth are on edge ”

Saturday, 3 April 2004

Vatican City (Fides Service) - We known that HIV/AIDS is mainly transmitted through sexual relations. Adults are responsible for their actions of which they must face the consequences. But how does this virus if not by adults infect infants and children? The suffering and death of children always raises questions: why? Why should a newborn child suffer from AIDS? Why are children condemned to be orphans because their parents died of HIV/AIDS? “Fathers who eat bitter grass spoil their children’s teeth?» But what is society doing to help these unfortunate children?
This report prepared by Father Jacques SIMPORE, Molecule Genetist, Member of the Pontifical Academy for Life Vita, has three parts:
1 - How children are infected by HIV/AIDS
2 - Epidemology and problems of HIV/AIDS among children under 15 in the world.
3 - Activity of three Camillan Centres which work to prevent mother/child transmission applying the PTME project (Prevention Transmission Mother Child)
1 - How children are infected by HIV/AIDS
Bio-medical science lists three modes of HIV transmission:
- sexual transmission;
- blood transfusions or penetration to a healthy organism of HIV infected biological fluids (sperm, vaginal secretion, blood)
- mother/child.
The most frequent mode of HIV/AIDS transmission mother/child may take place in the womb through the placenta; at the moment of birth; during breast-feeding.
Many factors increase the risk of infection: the quantity of the viral charge present in the mother’s blood in the, amniotic fluid, vaginal secretion in mother’s milk. Co-infections (IST: infections sexually transmissible): HCV, HBV, HGV, HTLV, HHV8… other factors, breaking of membranes increase risk of mother/child HIV transmission. Average global rate of mother/child HIV transmission in Africa varies from 30% to 35% while in the West it is almost 0%.

What can be done to prevent mother/child HIV transmission?
- Education of adults and formation of women aged 18 to 42;
- Treating pregnant mothers with antiretroviral drugs such as nevirapina;
- Caesarean delivery for HIV+ mothers;
- Stop HIV + mothers from breast-feeding. The early milk, colostrum, with a high viral charge must be avoided at all costs.
- hygiene: infants and children can also be infected in different ways through blood transfusions and contact. In some cultures there is a spreading opinion that by having sexual relations with a virgin an HIV+ man will be cured. This is leading many HIV+ positive men seeking a “cure”, to be sure the partner is virgin, commit the ignominious act, contrary to nature, of taking advantage of new-born girl babies.
Because of irresponsible behaviour of men and women today AIDS has reached a tragic peak of 42 million HIV+ persons many of who are infants and children under 15.
2 - Epidemology and problems of HIV/AIDS among children under 15 in the world. , ,
The extent of HIV varies according to continent and country there is not homogeneity of infection.
Unless we have special interventions, programmes to prevent and eliminate AIDS we will see:
- HIV will spread relentlessly;
- ever greater numbers of HIV+ children infected mother/child;
- increasing number of infant and children AIDS orphans

We look at 1997 reports from UNAIDS/WHO and from the website in 2003.

In 6 years 1997 to 2003:
- Number of HIV+ children increased 18.64%,
- Number of children who died of HIV increased 8.69%,
- Number of AIDS orphans increased by 70.73%. (Table number 1).

The number of HIV+ children grows and many become orphans when their parents die of AIDS. Table 1 shows that in 1997 the percentage of children HIV+ who died was 20.00% compared to 16.67% in 2003. The decrease in the number of children due to AIDS is thanks to treatment in recent years promoted by UNICEF, WHO and NGOs.


Report UNAIDS/WHO 1997 children HIV(+) under 15 Total infection HIV % children HIV (+) under 15
Persons living with HIV in 1997 1,100,000 30,600,000 3.59%
1Persons infected with HIV in 1997 590,000 5,800,000 10.17%
Persons killed by HIV until 1997 2,700,000 11,700,000 23.08%
2Persons killed by HIV in 1997 460,000 2,300,000 20.00%
3Number of orphans 8,200,000 Statistics 2003 children HIV(+) under 15 Total infection HIV % children HIV (+) under 15
Persons living with HIV in 19972003 2,500,000 40,000,000 6.25%
1’Persons infected by HIV in 2003 700,000 5,000,000 14.00%
Persons killed by HIV until 2001 4,300,000 21,800,000 19.72%
2’Persons killed by HIV in 2003 500,000 3,000,000 16.67%
3’Number of orphans 14,000,000

In certain countries of Sub-Saharan Africa the number of AIDS orphans is very high. In Uganda, Kenya and Zimbabwe for example, 51%, 54% and 77%. Table 2 shows world statistics.



Orphans in the world AIDS orphans % AIDS orphans
Africa 34,294,000 11,035,000 32.18%
Asia 65,504,000 1,827,000 2.79%
Latin America + Caribbean 8,166,000 578,000 7.08%

Orphans in the world (2001) 107,964,000 13,440,000 12.45%

3 - Activity of three Camillan Centres which apply PTME project (Prevention Transmission Mother Child) to prevent mother/child transmission
At Centres such as “Hogar San Camillo” in Lima, Peru, Rayong Social Centre in Thailand and Ouagadougou Medical Centre in Burkina Faso run by the Catholic religious Camillan Fathers WHO, UNICEF and the Catholic Church work to prevent HIV/AIDS mother/child infection be giving antiretroviral therapy PTME.
Unfortunately many people are not aware of the danger of HIV/AIDS mother/child infection.
A survey conducted by the Camillian Fathers in Burkina Faso on 30 June 2001 questioning 511 persons aged 18 to 32 ( 24,81 ± 3,32 average age, 246 girls and 265 boys), revealed the following :
- 16.75% said they were not aware of HIV/AIDS mother/child infection;
- 35.47% of the girls would marry a HIV+ boyfriend. Only 20.45% of the boys would marry a HIV+ girl;
- 13.48% wanted a family even if the husband or wife was HIV+ i.
This showed that most young people were not aware of the danger of HIV/AIDS mother/child infection. Hence the urgent need for formation for young women and men.
Since May 2002, the Ouagadougou Medical Centre provides private individual counselling for pregnant women. It offers HIV screening to all pregnant mothers and to their partners.
All infants born to HIV+ mothers are PCR tested at three months and the results are encouraging. Thanks to the PTME project many babies were saved from infection by HIV. For researchers, patients and public opinion the HIV virus is the symbol of shame, tribulation, physical suffering and death. In a message to the UN secretary Kofi Annan dated 26 June 2001, Pope John Paul II said that AIDS is one of the greatest tragedies of our epoch. The Pope said it is not only a health problem, it is a disease which has dramatic consequences on people’s economic, social and political life. . AIDS is also pathology of the spirit, which destroys not only the body but the whole person, inter-personal relations, social life, and it is often a carrier of a crisis in moral values .
Infants and children with HIV/AIDS, children suffering and dying because of AIDS pose a challenge to science, society and the Church. Today faced with much resistance to antiretroviral drugs and the inability of scientists to produce an effective vaccine to prevent HIV/AIDS mother/child infection what must be our attitude: to surrender or to fight? “What is the meaning of this proverb that you recite in the land of Israel: fathers have eaten green grapes thus their children’s teeth are on edge? As I live, says the Lord God: I swear that there shall no longer be anyone among you who will repeat this proverb in Israel” . (AP/JS) (3/4/2004 Agenzia Fides)
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- The Working Group on Mother-To-Child Transmission of HIV. Rates of mother-to-child transmission of HIV-1 in Africa, America and Europe: results from 13 perinatal studies. J Acquir Immun Defic Syndr Hum Retrovir 1995; 8: 506-10.
- UNAIDS and WHO, HIV/AIDS situation in mid 1996,
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