Africa Has More Than 11
Million AIDS Orphans

By Zandile Nkuta

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) -- The world's hardest AIDS-hit continent is unable to cope with 11 million children who are orphaned across Africa and the worst is yet to come as more parents succumb to the epidemic, UNICEF said Wednesday.
United Nations Children's Fund Executive Director Carol Bellamy told a media briefing that Africa's traditional way of dealing with orphans, through the extended family network, was collapsing due to overwhelming numbers of orphans.
"They are a crisis that is massive, that is growing, that is long term and unless governments and the international community intervene, we are creating an explosive situation," she said.
She spoke at the launch of a report which called for swift international aid to families and communities struggling to support AIDS orphans, calling it a "crisis of gargantuan proportions" with grave implications for African societies.
"We must keep parents alive and ensure that orphans and other vulnerable children stay in school and are protected from exploitation and abuse," Bellamy said. Sub-Saharan Africa is the region worst affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic, with an estimated 26.6 million people infected with the disease. AIDS researchers say one of the main reasons the disease is so widespread is because unprotected sex is common and the strain of the virus is particularly virulent.
By the end of 2001 more than 11 million African children under the age of 15 had been orphaned by AIDS, up from fewer than one million in 1990, the UNICEF report said.
It said that by 2010, about 20 million African children would have lost one or both parents to the disease.
Bellamy said African governments were not taking the epidemic seriously. "Two thirds of governments in sub-Saharan Africa have no policy at all on AIDS," she said.
In worst-hit countries like Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland, where HIV prevalence rates are higher than 30 percent, as well as in Zimbabwe, more than one in five children will be orphaned by 2010, some 80 percent of them by AIDS, the report said.
UNICEF said in countries that had succeeded in stabilizing or lowering HIV/AIDS prevalence rates like Uganda, the orphan crisis will grow as parents infected by AIDS continued to die.
The traditional extended family network, which cared for 90 percent of Africa's AIDS orphans, was deeply strained, with many households now headed by women, grandparents or even children.
Children's activist Graca Machel told the same briefing the orphan crisis had reached proportions of such magnitude and complexity it was undermining communities' ability to cope.
"We are talking of a crisis, which demands a completely different approach with multiple stakeholders to be involved," said Machel, wife of African statesman Nelson Mandela.
UNICEF said that countries where the extended family was already most stretched would see the largest increase in orphans. It did not name the countries.
UNICEF called for immediate assistance for programs to support, educate and care for the most vulnerable groups.
"(This) assistance can mean that many orphans who might otherwise be separated from their families are able to remain with them," Bellamy said. "The future of Africa depends on it."
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