Grim SA vision of Aids future: New ways may emerge to fight epidemic

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THE SPREAD of Aids in South and southern Africa could be a model for other areas that combine Third World social and economic conditions with a First World infrastructure, such as Asia and Latin America, according to a book (Facing up to Aids, the Socio-economic Impact in Southern Africa, by Sholto Cross and Alan Whiteside. Published by Macmillan) published this weekend.

South Africa's dual racial and economic society is reflected in the way Aids spread there: at first in the white community among male homosexuals and then, after 1987, by heterosexual contact throughout the black community. According to data quoted in the book, Aids will cause South Africa's population to level off after about the thirtieth year of the epidemic but that there will probably not be a drop in the population. The authors reject predictions that the population will decline dramatically, causing economic collapse.

Sholto Cross, of the University of East Anglia and one of the authors of the book, says that whatever the human cost, there will be little economic impact from Aids in South Africa in the short term, but in the longer term the economy will be hit. 'South Africa is facing a Third World epidemic with a population that may expect First World resources to be devoted to the care of the sick.'

The political implications of Aids in South Africa may be grave. Alan Whiteside, of the University of Natal and co-author of the book, says whites have portrayed Aids as a solution to the black population, while blacks regard it as a conspiracy to reduce their numbers. 'The psychological impact of Aids in South Africa, with its divided and mutually suspicious sections of society, will cast a dark shadow over the era of post-apartheid reconstruction.'

He argues that Aids has to be lifted out of the political arena and a common approach agreed by all political leaders. Because Aids is more advanced than in other similar countries, there is the possibility that it could become a model for responding to the Aids epidemic.

'South Africa has the reality of Third World poverty, urban ghettos and rural slums, together with an urban industrial infrastructure and sophisticated centres of learning and administration, which may uniquely enable new approaches to the management of the epidemic to be developed. These may be of great value to other such countries, notably in Asia and Latin America.'