AIDS may debilitate Africa

DURBAN, JULY 12. AIDS will turn the population-clock backward in several parts of Africa and the population growth in three countries of the continent will go negative by 2003, says a new demographic study by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

In Asia, AIDS will slightly retard the population growth of Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia.

The three African countries that the study listed are Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe, which are among the worst affected in the world.

Owing to AIDS mortality and low fertility, they will have a population growth ranging between 0.1 and 0.3 by 2003, says the report released at the 13th International AIDS Conference, currently under way here.

In five sub-Saharan African countries, the growth will fall to zero. Without AIDS, the figure would have been two per cent or higher. In Guyana, AIDS mortality and out-migration has already reduced the growth to 0.1.

The pandemic's devastation will be more disastrous than many anticipate and will be unprecedentedly severe, going by the study, which was conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau for USAID.

In many countries in Africa, the life expectancy will fall to 30 to 40 years by 2010, levels never seen since the beginning of the 20th century.

The most frightening example is Botswana, where 36 out of every 100 adults are infected with the virus. Life expectancy here has already fallen to 39 years.

In Africa, the eastern and the southern regions are the worst affected. Seven countries have an adult prevalence of 20 per cent and nine countries, rates between 10 and 20 per cent.

Presenting the contents of the study at a press conference here, Ms. Karen A. Stanecki, Chief of Health Studies from the Population Division of the U.S. Census Bureau, said AIDS would convert the population pyramids in Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe into population chimneys, a phenomenon that had never been seen before.

By 2020, between the ages of 15 and 44 years, there would be more men than women and this situation could push men to seek partners in younger women and in turn accelerate infection rates further.

Infant mortality too would rise as indicated by the figures in several countries. In four sub-Saharan African countries, AIDS would be the biggest killer of children by 2020. Ms. Stanecki said the disease had already affected the crude death rates, the number of people dying per 1000 population.

Dr. Paul Delay, who heads the HIV/AIDS division of USAID, said since 1986 the USAID had dedicated over $ 1.2 billions to the prevention and mitigation of the epidemic in the developing world. Its US $ 200 budget for the present year was four times higher than the next largest donors budget.

Meanwhile, the controversy kicked up by the South African President, Mr. Thabo Mbeki's statements against the universally accepted theory of AIDS refuses to subside.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Mr. Kenneth Roth, Executive Director, Human Rights Watch, said Mr. Mbeki had heightened the disaster the country is already in. He is failing miserably, he said.

Dr. David Ho, renowned virologist and pathbreaking AIDS researcher, said the damage Mr. Mbeki had done was severe. The unwillingness to accept reality would affect the country's national programme, he said.

India has a fairly large contingent at the conference. Bulk of the AIDS bureaucracy, NGOs, activists and specialists are participating in the event. Mr. Prasada Rao, Director, National AIDS Control Organisation, Mr. Gordon Alexander, head of UNAIDS in India and Dr. Sunithi Solomon of YRG Care are among the 200 delegates from India.