AIDS Epidemic Slows
World Population Growth
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OTTAWA (CP) -- The global AIDS epidemic is taking such a large toll in Africa that it will measurably slow world population growth, says a report by the Worldwatch Institute.
The report reflects a change in thinking by demographers. Previous studies concluded that AIDS would not significantly affect global population.
It was expected that world population growth would slow due to an international effort to provide better health care and family planning. But the spectacular rise in African mortality rates has been a surprise.
"This is new in terms of its effect on world demographic trends," Lester Brown, president of the Washington-based research organization, said in an interview. "People are now talking about child-headed households becoming common (in sub-Saharan Africa)."
The report says some countries, such as Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe, will lose one fifth or more of their adult population within the next decade unless a low-cost cure for AIDS is found.
When UN demographers updated their population projections last October, they reduced the projected global population for 2050 to 8.9 billion from 9.4 billion -- a drop of 500 million.
Of this drop, two thirds was due to falling fertility and improved family planning. One third was due to rising mortality from AIDS.
The epidemic is especially devastating because it does not normally claim the weak and the old, but people in the prime of life. In Zimbabwe, which had been seen as a model of economic development, life expectancy has fallen to 44 years from 60 years in 1990, says the report.
Food security is being affected in rural areas due to a lack of labour in the fields. The number of able-bodied workers is reduced not only by deaths and sickness but also by the need for those who are well to care for the sick.
In South Africa, 70 per cent of the beds in some hospitals are occupied by AIDS victims, says the report. At the University of Durban-Westville, 25 per cent of the student body is HIV positive. "In Africa, it is often the better educated, more socially mobile populations that have the highest infection rate. Africa is losing the agronomists, the engineers and the teachers it needs to sustain its economic development."
Brown said there are few programs to combat the epidemic, and most African governments are overwhelmed. Infection rates are still rising. Partof the inability to confront the trends stems from faltering international support for family planning. "The same reproductive health services and the same condoms that help lower birth rates also check the spread of the virus. "Unless governments can mobilize quickly to contain the virus, the epidemic could claim more lives in the early part of the new century than World War Two did in this one."