Aids reduces African life expectancy to 33

The Aids pandemic is ravaging countries in sub-Saharan Africa, drastically reducing life expectancy in some parts to less than 33 years, a new UN report said yesterday.

The devastating impact of the crisis can be seen most clearly in seven African countries, including Malawi and Mozambique, where babies born in 2002 are not expected to live past 40 years because of the prevalence of HIV. Children in Zambia, where 17 per cent of the population are infected with the virus, are predicted to live just 32 years. The seven countries have, between them, seen an average drop in life expectancy of 13.5 years since 1990, the UN human development report said.

"In all these countries, Aids is reversing the hard-won development gains of recent decades," said Elizabeth Lwanga, the deputy director of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) for Africa. "We need an unprecedented response to this crisis, which is taking a devastating toll on our communities."

With almost a quarter of its population infected with the virus, Zimbabwe has been the country most dramatically affected. Life expectancy there has plummeted from 57 years in 1990 to 34 in 2002.

In Swaziland, where one in three people between the ages of 15 and 49 are Aids sufferers, life expectancy has dropped by almost 20 years, and in Botswana, where the disease affects 37 per cent of the population, people can expect to live 16 years less now than in 1970.

Sub-Saharan Africa is home to just over 10 per cent of the world's population - and to almost two thirds of all people living with HIV. In 2003, an estimated three million people in the area became infected for the first time, while 2.2 million died. As a result, many of the countries are considerably poorer than they were a decade ago; 13 of them are virtually the first countries in the UNDP report's history to have suffered a reversal in living standards.

The UNDP administrator, Mark Malloch Brown, said that the virus caused such destruction because it affected all aspects of life. Those who fell victim to the disease left behind them countries struggling to cope with the loss of such a large proportion of the workforce.

"The Aids crisis cripples states at all levels, because the disease attacks people in their most productive years," said Mr Malloch Brown. "It tears apart the foundation of everything, from public administration and health care to family structures."

Mohga Kamal-Smith, a health policy adviser for Oxfam, pointed to the failure of the international community as one of the main reasons for the devastation. "As the epidemic spread, the donor contributions from richer countries went down," she said. "Hardly any of the governments have achieved the 0.7 per cent GDP contribution that they committed to."

The UNDP's annual report shows the drop in contributions from the highest-ranked countries in the list, particularly from Norway and the US.

The lead author of the report, Sakiko Fukada-Parr, acknowledged that the most afflicted countries face enormous problems but said she believed that solutions may be found.

"Aids is currently presenting a very basic problem in human development," she said. "But other countries, like Senegal and Brazil, have achieved partial success in fighting the disease, due to easily accessible medicine and all elements of the countries getting involved."

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