AIDS Taking Deadly Toll
On SA Youth
By David Derbyshire, Medical Correspondent

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - The plight of South African AIDS boy activist Nkosi Johnson has sparked new fears over the impact of the deadly disease on the country's young.
Eleven-year-old Nkosi, who has become the public face of the deadly disease in South Africa, remained in a critical condition on Wednesday after suffering a series of seizures that have left him in a semi-comatose state.
Nkosi's condition prompted front-page newspaper stories detailing alarming evidence that children were infected by HIV-AIDS in ever greater numbers and their future was being jeopardised by a potential collapse in the education system.
At least 200 babies were now being born HIV-positive every day -- more than 70,000 AIDS births a year -- and at least half of the children in paediatric wards were HIV-positive.
``The burden of the epidemic can now be seen in children. It may already be too late,'' Dr Glenda Gray from the Baragwanath Hospital, one of Johannesburg's biggest medical centres, told The Citizen daily newspaper.
Nkosi was infected at birth by his HIV-positive mother and given up to his white foster mother Gail Johnson when he was two years old. His natural mother had been ostracised by her community after her AIDS status became known.
Nkosi's message of safe sex and drug use has become a rallying cry in the battle against AIDS which has killed far more South Africans than the struggle against apartheid.
Gray called on the government to allow the use of the antiretroviral drug Nevirapine to prevent the transmission of the virus from mothers to their new born.
South African President Thabo Mbeki has courted controversy by denying AIDS drugs such as AZT, that have cut down on mother-to-child HIV transmission, on cost and safety grounds.
Mbeki's questioning of the causal link between HIV and AIDS has sparked uproar in scientific circles. Activists have slammed the president and his government for confusing the public at a time when the epidemic was reaching crisis levels.
Some 4.2 million South Africans -- or one in 10 of the population -- are estimated to have the disease.
Health experts warn five to seven million South Africans could be living with the disease within the next 10 years if nothing is done to change sexual behaviour.
Teenage infection rates, in a country where more than half the population is under 25, are rising at alarming rates.
There are expected to be around 800,000 orphans under the age of 15 by 2005, rising to close to two million at the end of this decade, according to the LoveLife AIDS campaign group. EDUCATION SYSTEM UNDER THREAT
The devastating impact of AIDS on the country's education system was also highlighted in a new report which showed that the disease would become the single biggest killer of teachers this year, shattering the quality of education.
An independent consultancy report carried out for the Department of Health and leaked to The Star newspaper concluded that one in five teachers in the worst affected province of KwaZulu-Natal were HIV-positive.
The report also concluded that one in four undergraduates and one in eight postgraduates nationwide were HIV-positive, a major blow to the country's skills base.
``HIV-AIDS poses a direct challenge to the education system's mission and ability to function effectively,'' the paper quoted the consultant report as saying.
The report recommended that retired teachers be recalled to stand in for teachers who die or were absent because of disease.

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