Today marks the 10th anniversary of World AIDS Orphan Day – and an important opportunity to highlight stories of children affected by HIV and AIDS.

Despite many gains in the fight against AIDS, children still lag far behind adults in access to important medical services, including HIV prevention, care, and treatment.

At the end of 2010, approximately 16.6 million children lost one or both parents to AIDS – 14.9 million of whom live in sub-Saharan Africa.

And the number of children who are orphaned or made vulnerable by AIDS continues to rise.

Children like Ashley from Zimbabwe are living proof of how orphans and vulnerable children can thrive if given the opportunity.

Ashley is six years old and lost her parents to AIDS several years ago. She currently lives with her siblings and cousins under the care of her grandmother, Juliana, who struggles to maintain all 13 children in her care.

But thanks to the support of a local organization, J.F. Kapnek Trust, and the US Agency for International Development (USAID), Ashley is now enrolled in a program at a nearby early childhood development center where she receives critical nutrition, health, education, and protection services.

Today, Ashley is healthy, happy, and active. She recently graduated from the ECD program and has started first grade, where she is performing at the top of her class.

We need more success stories like Ashley’s.

Under the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), USAID is working to make children like Ashley, and others who are affected by HIV and AIDS, a priority.

By partnering with national governments, communities, and other organizations, USAID is committed to improving the lives of children orphaned and made vulnerable by AIDS – a critical step in the path to achieving an AIDS-Free generation.

But our work is far from over.

“We are committed to and have a unique opportunity to join together to provide care and support for children affected by HIV and AIDS and ensure that no child has to grow-up with HIV,” said Roxana Rogers, Director of the Office of HIV/AIDS at USAID.

To do that, we need to step-up our early intervention efforts for children under five years old – a time of critical development for young children.

We also need to work with families to help them become more economically stable so they can access essential services and better provide for their children.

By thinking long-term and investing in efforts to strengthen systems of care and support, including social services, we can improve the lives of children around the world.

With a special focus on these strategies, we will achieve President Obama and Secretary Clinton’s goals to turn the tide against HIV and finally see the beginning of the end of AIDS.