• Kyodo

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More than 1.5 million children in Asia and the Pacific region have been orphaned due to AIDS, making protection, care and support for them urgent, UNICEF and two nongovernmental organizations reported Sunday during an AIDS conference.

In addition, it is estimated that 121,000 children were living with HIV/AIDS in the region as of the end of 2004, with an estimated 47,000 children newly infected last year alone, according to UNICEF, Family Health International and Save the Children UK.

The report was made during the 7th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific currently under way in Kobe.

The three organizations said many more children in the region are thought to be living with sick and dying parents or relatives and are at risk of losing their caregivers. India, Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar have the largest numbers of such orphans, while China’s population of such children could increase, they said.

“This is an urgent wakeup call for action,” Anupama Rao Singh, the regional director of UNICEF East Asia and the Pacific Regional Office, said in a statement. “We not only have to do much more to protect and care for these children, but also step up primary prevention efforts to halt the spread of HIV/AIDS.”

The emotional toll on children affected by HIV/AIDS can be devastating as they suffer from isolation, loss of self-esteem, depression and anxiety. There are about 3.5 million children suffering from discrimination because their parents are infected with the disease, they said.

Such children are often bullied at school and tend to drop out, becoming vulnerable to high-risk behavior that can lead to HIV infection by landing jobs in the sex industry, for example, they said.