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Thursday, 20 July, 2000, 14:23 GMT 15:23 UK
Africa pays hidden costs of Aids
Aids AP
The Aids impact is not always immediately obvious
By environment correspondent Alex Kirby

The Worldwatch Institute says some southern African countries could lose a third of their adult population to Aids by 2010.

In an assessment of the HIV epidemic, the environment group says the crisis is already taking the lives of 6,030 Africans every day - the equivalent of 15 fully-laden jumbo jets crashing daily, with no survivors.

There is no precedent in international development for the challenge the world now faces in Africa

Dr Lester Brown
And that total is expected to double within the next 10 years. The Institute says the number of orphans could reach 20 million by the end of the decade, and tackling the crisis "will make the rebuilding of Europe after World War Two seem like child's play".

The chairman of the Institute, which is based in Washington DC, Lester Brown, says the recent Aids conference in Durban was a reminder that Africa is dying.

But "we need now to look at the longer-term economic consequences - falling food production, deteriorating health care, and disintegrating educational systems," he says.

Health care budgets

Food security declines as the epidemic intensifies, Dr Brown argues.

"At the family level, food supplies drop precipitously when the first adult develops full-blown Aids. This deprives the family not only of this worker in the fields, but also of the work time of the adult caring for the Aids victim.

"A survey in Tanzania found that a woman whose husband was sick with Aids spent 60% less time tending the crops.

"Food production declines from the epidemic have been reported in Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast and Zimbabwe. In pastoral economies, such as Namibia, the loss of the male head of household is often followed by the loss of cattle, the family's livelihood."

Dr Brown says nearly half of Zimbabwe's health care budget is spent on treating Aids patients.

Impact on education

In some hospitals in Burundi and South Africa, these patients occupy 60% of the beds.

The impact on education is also stark. "In Zambia, the number of teachers dying of Aids each year approaches the number of new teachers being trained.

"In the Central African Republic, a shortage of teachers closed 107 primary schools, leaving only 66 open. At the University of Durban-Westville in South Africa, 25% of the student body is HIV-positive."

Dr Brown says that industrial countries have held the HIV infection rate among adults to below 1%, but in 16 African countries it is above 10%.

"In South Africa, it is 20%. In Zimbabwe and Swaziland, it is 25%. And in Botswana, which has the highest infection rate, 36% of adults are HIV-positive.

"Barring a medical miracle, these latter countries will lose one-fifth to one-third of their adults by the end of this decade."

No precedent

There is concern over the economic impact of the epidemic, as Aids steeply increases the dependency ratio, the number of young and old people who depend on productive adults.

"This in turn makes it much more difficult for a society to save. Reduced savings means reduced investment and slower economic growth, or even decline."

Spiralling health-care insurance costs discourage foreign investment flows. Dr Brown ends with a challenge: "Sub-Saharan Africa, a region of 600 million people, is moving into uncharted waters.

"There is no precedent for such a concentrated loss of adults." Saving Africa, he says, will require an effort surpassing the Marshall Plan launched to rebuild Europe after the devastation of war in 1945.

"There is no precedent in international development for the challenge the world now faces in Africa. If we fail to respond, we will forfeit the right to call ourselves a civilised society."

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See also:

14 Jul 00 | Health
Mandela urges unity against Aids
14 Jul 00 | Media reports
Mandela's Aids speech: Excerpts
11 Jul 00 | Africa
Aids threat to Africa's economy
11 Jul 00 | UK Politics
Short criticises Vatican over Aids fight
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