There is a growing momentum to improve early childhood development for vulnerable children affected by HIV and AIDS.

In April 2013, I joined the staff of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation as the lead officer for our program helping children affected by HIV and AIDS. In this new position, my role is to build on the work of our Director for International Programs, Shaheen Kassim-Lakha, who has spearheaded the initiative since 2011. A key part of our efforts is to collaborate with other funders and technical experts. To that end, Dr. Kassim-Lakha and I recently participated in a meeting series hosted by the Coalition for Children Affected by AIDS offsite link (the Coalition).

The “Road to Melbourne” is a series of three convenings leading up to the 20th International AIDS Conference offsite link in Melbourne next year. The Coalition’s aim is to elevate the importance of early interventions for children born into HIV- and AIDS-affected families. Findings and recommendations of the group will feed into the larger conference next year. Our first meeting took place at the end of May in the New York offices of our partner UNICEF offsite link. It brought together funders and technical experts working in the areas of HIV and AIDS, early childhood development, child protection, maternal and child health, and poverty alleviation. The discussions were in close alignment with the Hilton Foundation’s strategy to bring together the HIV/AIDS community and experts working on early childhood development to foster more integrated programs, breaking down the silos that persist.

There is a growing momentum to improve early childhood development for vulnerable children affected by HIV and AIDS. The World Health Organization offsite link (the global body that develops and disseminates guidelines and policies worldwide) is developing a road map for early childhood development and the U.S. Government’s PEPFAR offsite link HIV/AIDS Program is taking a closer look at the issue as well.

Despite this encouraging news, experts at the meeting indicated that we lack an understanding of why one approach may work in one setting, but not in another. We also need to find a way to address the multiple needs that vulnerable children and families have. In addition, we need to understand how to scale up proven interventions to reach large numbers of children and families, working within existing health and social service systems.

We participated in a panel featuring my colleague, Shaheen Kassim-Lakha and Dr. Caroline Ryan, Director of Technical Leadership at the Office of the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator. In her presentation, Dr. Kassim-Lakha explained how the Hilton Foundation came to focus on children, from birth to five years old, who are affected by HIV and AIDS. Key to our understanding was scientific evidence exploring the impact that early childhood development interventions could have and the fact that too little attention had been focused on this particular age group.

We’re pleased to be participating in this series of discussions and we recognize the importance of sharing these ground-breaking efforts and learning together. Next stop on the Road to Melbourne will be the Coalition’s second meeting in Cape Town, South Africa this December. We will be there, as will a number of our grantees, to share promising approaches to meeting the needs of vulnerable young children affected by HIV and AIDS/