AIDS In Africa - HIV
Devastates A Continent
By Fed Pearce
New Scientist
Just five years ago, babies born in Zimbabwe had a life expectancy of 61 years. Many could expect to live to see their great grandchildren born. Today, thanks to AIDS, their life expectancy is 39 years. They will be lucky to become grandparents in their lifetime.
These devastating figures have emerged from a new study to be published next month by the US Census Bureau, which has for the first time calculated the impact of the disease on life expectancy across Africa. The study reveals a demographic holocaust in which population growth in most countries is being slashed. It marks a return to the conditions of the last century, when high birth rates were neutralised by equally high death rates.
Zimbabwe is the worst case, with a quarter of adults infected with HIV. Death rates are "three times higher than they would have been without AIDS", says the report. Most of the dead are young adults and infants infected by their mothers. The country's annual population growth rate has fallen from around 3 per cent in 1992 to 1·1 per cent today. By 2010, newborn Zimbabweans will have a life expectancy of just 31 years. "We are living through a nightmare," says Joseph Malawa, director of Population Services Zimbabwe in Harare. "I don't think you'll find one family that has not lost a relative to AIDS."
Other countries are not far behind. The report, Focus on HIV/AIDS in the Developing World by Peter Way and his colleagues at the Census Bureau, reveals that in Kenya, life expectancy has been slashed by 18 years to 48 years, and in Botswana by 22 years to 40. One of the few rays of hope is Uganda, where prevention programmes are starting to reduce infection rates.
In September, the UN Development Programme warned that anybody who thinks this brake on population growth might promote African economic development is seriously mistaken. "HIV/AIDS is having a significant impact on economies, creating shortages of skilled labour," the agency noted.