400,000 AIDS Orphans
In Mozambique

From Jan Lamprecht
Southern Africa in Crisis

Note in the article below how AIDS is helping to cause a food crisis. This is what Dr Jan Du Plessis mentioned in his analysis "South Africa: Beyond Demoracy" which is in the Photo Gallery of the Website. --Jan
MAPUTO - For months, 13-year-old Percilia wandered the streets of Maputo, surviving off scraps of food she begged from strangers or salvaged from garbage cans.
Like thousands of other children here, Percilia and her sister, about 7, were left to fend for themselves when their parents and older sister died of Aids-related complications two years ago.
Percilia - whose last name was withheld - and her sister were among the lucky few Aids orphans. Staff at one of the country's 40 orphanages found them in the streets and took them in. They are fed with the help of the World Food Programme.
WFP currently feeds more than 122 000 children in Mozambique by supporting local groups. lt hopes to reach a further 100 000 by the end of the year.
The government, battling food shortages and overwhelmed by a disease that has infected one in 10 Mozambicans, does not have the means to feed the country's growing number of Aids orphans.
"We would eat food people threw away," Percilia said tearfully, fingers tugging at a blue polka-dot dress. "Old food didn't matter. We were hungry."
The plight of children like Percilia has been a theme at two separate Aids conferences hosted by Mozambique this week.
One, organised by the South African financial services company Metropolitan, aims to encourage solutions through partnerships between the public and private sectors. A separate conference is considering ways of mitigating the effects of HIV on regional food production.
About 400 000 children have been orphaned by Aids. In all 1.7 million of Mozambique's 17 million people are infected with HIV, according to government figures.
Aids is also decimating the farming population of this largely agrarian society, robbing Mozambicans of the ability to feed themselves.
To make matters worse, the southern African country is suffering its lowest rainfall in 50 years. Close to one million people are threatened by hunger as crops fail and food aid trickles into Africa's fourth poorest country.
Traditionally, orphans here have been cared for by their extended families. But Aids and drought have left many families unable to care for their own, let alone take in additional mouths to feed.
"Unfortunately, Aids orphans end up at the back of feeding lines because they are left to fend for themselves," said Jennifer Abrahamson, of the World Food Programme.
Fourteen-year-old Ana - whose name was also withheld - and her 6-year-old brother, Paolo, struggle on their own in a shack on the crowded outskirts of the capital, Maputo. Their father died four years ago of Aids-related complications, and their mother abandoned them, fearing she too might have contracted the disease.
For a year, they survived by begging food from neighbours, until the local aid organisation Kindlimuka discovered their plight.
Now, Kindlimuka - "Wake Up" in the local Shangane - supplies the children with beans, mealiemeal, spaghetti and fish with the help of the WFP. Ana is back in school, her brother looks healthy.
Mozambique's cash-strapped government relies on international organizations like WFP and the UN Children's Fund to help feed its Aids orphans.
Government officials say they don't even have the means to determine how many children need help.
"We cannot cope with the situation as it is, and we know it will only get worse," said Sonia Romao, a co-ordinator for the Ministry of Women and Social Affairs. Unicef projects by 2010, the country will be home to 1.2 million orphans, 926 000 of them due to Aids.
"If we do not stem the tide now, it will be nearly impossible to feed these children in the future," said Atieno Odenyo, a Unicef officer in Maputo.
Natalie Simione, who runs Liberdade, or "Freedom," in Portuguese, receives a small annual grant from the government for the orphanage that took in Percilia and her sister. But she says she would not be able to keep going without the help of WFP and other aid groups.
In the courtyard behind the high brick and clay walls, Percilia's laughter mingles with that of the other children at a long table washed in bright sunlight. In front of each child is a plate of beans, maize meal and green vegetables.
The children receive three nutritious meals a day prepared over an open fire in a sandy courtyard. Percilia and her sister share one of five small bedrooms with the centre's 33 other children, most of them orphaned by Aids.
"We are barely surviving from day to day with food aid to keep our children healthy," Simione said. "We can't save them all, but we will do our best with the ones we can reach.",,2-11-37_1440889,00.html




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