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Wednesday, 1 December, 1999, 13:14 GMT
HIV warning for Nigeria
Woman in Zambian Aids hospice
Southern and eastern Africa still have the highest infection rates
More than one in 20 Nigerian adults are infected with the HIV virus, according to new statistics published on Wednesday, World Aids Day.

The United Nations says 95% of HIV sufferers live in poor countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, where infection rates will rise faster because of inadequate health systems, poverty and limited access to new drugs.

The virus is most prevalent in eastern and southern Africa, where millions of children have been orphaned by the disease.

HIV in Nigeria
2.6m people infected
Set to rise to 4.9 million by 2003
Infection rate exceeds 20% in some areas
But the new findings on Nigeria - the most comprehensive survey into the spread of the HIV virus in Africa's most populous country - concludes there is a growing HIV epidemic in Nigeria which will have a major social and economic impact.

A report accompanying the findings says that an estimated 5.4% of adult Nigerians now have the virus which leads to the disease Aids.

It concludes that about 2.6m adult Nigerians have the HIV virus and that this number will rise to 4.9m in the year 2003.

Because of its huge population, Nigeria has far more people who are HIV positive than any other West African country, but it also has double the rate of infection of nearby countries like Benin, Chad and Niger.

Window of oppurtunity

According to this report, there is still a window of opportunity for Nigeria to prevent the dramatic spread of the HIV virus. But that window is closing rapidly.

Its findings are based on a survey of more than 20,000 pregnant Nigerian women which was carried out by the government with help from the World Health Organisation.

Infection rates are relatively high amongst the youngest women surveyed and already this report says the HIV virus is spreading at an explosive rate in some parts of Nigeria.

In the central state of Benue for instance, 21% of adults are estimated to be HIV positive.

Orphan crisis

Aids in Zambia
500,000 orphans
Life expectancy fallen to 37 years
Elsewhere in the continent, the United Nations children's agency, Unicef, estimates that by the end of 2000 Aids will have claimed the lives of enough adults to create 13m orphans in Africa. Other estimates put the figure closer to 20m.

In much of southern Africa a quarter of adults are HIV positive, leading to sharp rises in the numbers of households where children are the breadwinners.

In Zambia, Unicef believes there are over 500,000 Aids orphans - in South Africa, the figure is approaching one million.

These children have to grow up quickly, many surviving by stealing what they need or selling themselves as prostitutes.

The average life expectancy in Zambia has fallen from 56 in 1980 to just 37 because of Aids, a tendency which is repeated elsewhere in southern and eastern Africa.

Even in South Africa, the continent's richest country, the government promotes Aids education, but says it lacks the money to pay for drugs which combat the effects of HIV.

Women who have been raped and possibly infected with the HIV virus cannot get free access to the anti-viral drug AZT, which could help prolong their lives.

BBC's Clive Myrie for BBC News
Reports on the risk of HIV from rape

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See also:

01 Dec 99 | Africa
01 Dec 99 | In Depth
04 Oct 99 | Africa
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15 Nov 99 | Health
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