The growing crisis of AIDS in Africa U.N. report: Dire consequences predicted for continent if epidemic goes unchecked.

November 07, 1998

A UNITED NATIONS survey on Africa, framed by such morbid descriptions as "devastating mortality toll" and "extremely shocking levels of prevalence," found that AIDS will reduce the population in some countries by 25 percent in the next five to 10 years.

That is a staggering prospect, with implications not only for health but politics, economics, food supplies, shelter, mental health attitudes, the elderly and youth -- every facet of existence on that continent.

Worldwide, those most affected by the pandemic are between ages 10 and 24. Of some 7,000 new HIV infections daily, half are in that age group. Experts predict that in Africa by 2050, older adults will outnumber children, as a generation is wiped out by AIDS.

The report, by the U.N.'s Population Division, cites Botswana as an example of the devastation in the 34 nations surveyed. Life expectancy five years ago there was 61; by 2005, it will be 41.

Zimbabwe's growth rate went from 3.3 percent annually in the 1980s to the current rate of 1.4 percent; it is projected at less than 1 percent in 2000.

"Of the 30 million persons in the world currently infected by HIV, 26 million, or 86 percent, reside in these 34 countries," the report stated. "In addition, 91 percent of all AIDS deaths in the world have occurred in these 34 countries."

The impact will not be restricted to the African continent. AIDS is moving through countries with huge populations, including China, India and Brazil.

The findings prompted the United Nations to lower its population estimates significantly for the year 2050 from 9.4 billion to 8.9 billion, which nevertheless represents a 50 percent increase from the current 5.9 billion people on the globe.

Scientists are engaged in frantic efforts to find a cure. Meanwhile, politicians must find the money to underwrite intensive research. Any cure probably will be expensive: The "cocktail" regimen credited with relieving the suffering in developed nations is costly -- $15,000 annually per patient. That is a price rich nations so far have been unwilling to consider for Africans.

Worse, another study found that attempts to reduce the number of drugs in the regimen failed. When one of the three drugs was withheld, the virus rebounded quickly.

As depressing as these reports are, we have to accept the momentous and demanding task for the challenge that it is. An answer must be found. And soon.

Pub Date: 11/07/98

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