More than 28 million Africans are living with HIV, and in some countries at least 30 per cent of the adult population is infected by the deadly virus, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) said today as it released data about the unprecedented destruction the disease is causing to African societies and economies.
"The devastating impact of HIV/AIDS is rolling back decades of development progress in Africa," UNAIDS Executive Director Dr. Peter Piot said. "Every element of African society - from teachers to soldiers to farmers - is under attack by AIDS."
HIV/AIDS is rapidly weakening economic stability in the fragile markets of sub-Saharan Africa, according to the UN agency. The rate of economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa has fallen by as much as 4 per cent because of AIDS, while labour productivity has been cut by up to 50 per cent in the hardest-hit countries. In Zambia, nearly two thirds of deaths among the managerial sector can be attributed to AIDS. By 2020, over 25 per cent of the workforce may be lost to the disease in some severely affected countries.
In rural areas, agricultural output has been severely damaged by the deaths of 7 million farmers, UNAIDS said. Twenty per cent of rural families in Burkina Faso are estimated to have reduced their agricultural work or even abandoned their farms. With fewer people available to work the land, households are often forced to farm smaller plots or switch to less labour-intensive subsistence crops, which often have lower nutritional and market value.
At the same time, AIDS is undermining national security in many hard-hit African nations. Ministries of defence in these countries report the prevalence of HIV averaging 20 to 40 per cent among soldiers, reaching as high as 50 to 60 per cent in countries where HIV/AIDS has been present for more than a decade.
Meanwhile, the capacity of governments to serve their citizens is another casualty of the epidemic, as budgets shrink and civil servants are killed by AIDS. In Botswana, for example, the Government will lose a fifth of its public revenue by 2010 because of the epidemic. In Kenya, the disease accounts for up to three out of every four deaths in the police force. As essential services such as health, welfare, and justice falter, the most poor and vulnerable households endure the worst of the consequences, UNAIDS said.