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Orphan generation
Watch Karen Allen's report from Zambia
Lucky and her daughters
Robin Lustig in South Africa meets one family who are living through the Aids tragedy
Overview: Breaking the silence
Overview: Breaking the silence
By Robin Lustig

A home for Aids orphans in Mombasa, Kenya

Pepile is seven years old and very ill. Her father and younger brother died of Aids, her mother is HIV positive. So is Pepile.

Interactive map She is one of 23 million Africans who are living with HIV and Aids, just one young life in a disaster which has been called the greatest catastrophe to hit the African continent since slavery.

I met Pepile in her bare, stone home at the end of a dusty hillside track in the rolling countryside of the South African province of Kwazulu-Natal.

She is bright and loves to talk, but she knows she is desperately ill. There are no drugs for her, just as there are no drugs for the vast majority of Africans who are living with HIV/Aids.

Care workers from a hospice 20 miles away, the South Coast Hospice in Port Shepstone, down on the coast, visit her when they can, bringing little more than words of comfort and support.

Lucky Barnabas is also living with HIV. She is 36 and has two daughters.

What she hopes for, she told me, is that she'll live two more years to see her eldest daughter finish school. Then, it will be her responsibility to look after her younger sister. Two more Aids orphans to join the 10 million already trying to survive in Africa.

According to one recent estimate, one quarter of the population of southern Africa may die of Aids. Businesses are losing their workers, schools are losing their teachers, farms are losing their labourers.

On one farm in the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe, I was told that of a total workforce of around 200, two a week are dying of Aids.

A mother with HIV in Tanzania: More than 23m Africans are estimated to be infected
So why is it happening, and what is being done about it? Aids hits hardest where there is widespread poverty, where there is inadequate health care and where too many people go hungry and are malnourished.

It hits hardest where men have to leave their rural homes and flock to the cities to find work, and where girls and women are ignored when they try to refuse to have unprotected sex. All these conditions apply in Africa.

In some countries, most notably Uganda and Senegal, there have been successes in the fight against Aids, but the task is still a huge one.

What about the little ones. The children.
Your little Angels and Saints.
Do you see their suffering Lord?
Did you see Solomon, Priscilla and James?
What about Sarah and Najjuma?
And do you remember Brenda?
She followed her mum only five months later.
What do you think about this suffering Lord?
It has not spared the innocent and weak.
Lord we have waited too long.

The international drugs companies have agreed to slash the prices of their anti-HIV drugs, but they are still far too expensive for all but a tiny handful of Africans. And without a proper distribution system, or long-term counselling and care, drugs alone cannot be the whole answer.

The international Aids conference in Durban aims to focus world attention on Aids, and in particular on Aids in Africa.

Its theme is "Break the Silence" - because for millions of Africans, the stigma of living with HIV/Aids is still too great, and they suffer alone and in silence.

Slowly, governments in Africa and elsewhere are waking up to the scale of the disaster, but many more millions will die before this 21st century catastrophe has been beaten.

Robin Lustig is reporting from the Durban Aids conference for BBC Radio 4 and World Service.

HIV/Aids invades Africa
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