- Tackling HIV will be the most urgent
task facing President-elect Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, according to a
respected US conservation group.
- The group, the Worldwatch Institute of
Washington DC, says South Africa's HIV epidemic is one of the world's fastest-growing,
and is "engulfing" the country.
- It says antenatal clinic surveys conducted
in April show 22% of the population are infected, compared with an estimate
in late 1997 of 14%.
- This, the Institute says, means that
"barring a medical miracle, one out of every five adults will die
within the next decade".
- Economic impact
- And with young adults showing the highest
infection rates, "an unprecedented social tragedy is beginning to
translate into an economic disaster".
- The Institute says the virus is poised
to savagely reduce South Africa's working-age population.
- "In the predominantly black and
largely impoverished province of Kwazulu-Natal, one in three adults is
thought to be infected.
- "At the University of Durban-Westville
in Kwazulu-Natal, 25% of the student body recently tested positive for
HIV - a dismal prospect for the nation's best and brightest.
- "Rising costs for insuring the health
of workers are shrinking or even eliminating company profit margins, forcing
some into the red.
- "Countries where labour forces have
such high infection levels will find it increasingly difficult to attract
- Life expectancy plummets
- The Institute says 100,000 children were
orphaned by Aids in South Africa in 1998 alone.
- And it notes a "precipitous"
drop in life expectancy.
- "As recently as 1990, life expectancy
in South Africa stood at 59 years, among the highest in Africa.
- "But deaths from AIDS are expected
to drive it below 40 years by 2010."
- Dr Robert Shell, director of the Population
Rsearch Unit at Rhodes University, says the 22% infection figure is an
- "Any woman using any kind of contraceptive
device will be excluded from the survey.
- "And we are seeing some signs of
infection among the 5-14 age group, caused by people who want to have sex
- He described HIV in sub-Saharan Africa
as "not an epidemic, but a pandemic. And South Africa is the epicentre".
- "For a variety of reasons, the government
here ends up denying what is happening. It's time for the US cavalry."