AIDS threatening African economies
BARCELONA, Spain -- The spread of AIDS could wipe out a quarter of the workforces of some African nations in the next 20 years, a major conference in Barcelona has heard.
Addressing the week-long 14th International AIDS Conference on its first full day on Monday, Bernhard Schwartlaender said more than 20 percent of adults in seven sub-Saharan African countries had the HIV virus that causes the condition.
In Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland and Zimbabwe the rate is one in three, Schwartlaender, the director of the HIV/AIDS department of the World Health Organization, added.
The prediction came as American company VaxGen, said it could have an AIDS vaccine in production by 2005 if results from trials were as good as they expected. (Full story)
About 14,000 doctors, scientists and activists from around the world are estimated to be attending the conference to discuss what officials say is now the worst epidemic ever faced by mankind.
Delegates will take in a packed schedule of scientific briefings and updates on the scourge of AIDS that has infected about 40 million people worldwide.
Schwartlaender warned that the loss of workers due to AIDS could hit economic growth and undermine key sectors of society in the worst-hit countries.
"By 2020, more than 25 percent of the workforce in some countries may be lost to AIDS," he said.
Already in Kenya, AIDS accounts for up to three of every four deaths in the police force, while Swaziland would have to train 13,000 new teachers over the next 17 years to maintain services -- 7,000 more than if there were no AIDS deaths, Reuters news agency reported.
The United Nations' AIDS agency warned last week the epidemic was still in its infancy and could kill 70 million people over the next 20 years as it spreads deeper into Asia and Eastern Europe.
Earlier, the conference heard research suggesting that the average life expectancy of people living in 11 African countries would drop below 40 by 2010 because of HIV/AIDS.
"By 2010, we project that life expectancies in these countries will be back to levels that have not been seen since the nineteenth century," said the U.S. Census Bureau's Karen Stanecki.
Stanecki's "middle-case scenario" report, which assumes the epidemic will begin to level off in Africa over the next eight years, predicts that the average life expectancy in Botswana and Mozambique will drop to just 27 years.
Swaziland will see an average of 33 years and Zimbabwe, Zambia and Namibia 34 years. Life expectancy in Angola, Lesotho, Malawi and Rwanda and Mali will drop to the mid- to late 30s.
Without AIDS, average life in southern African countries such as Botswana, Namibia and Swaziland would have been about 70 years by 2010, the report shows. Instead, deaths will outstrip births in five countries by 2010, meaning falling populations.
Without AIDS, Botswana, Mozambique, Lesotho, Swaziland and South Africa would have expected a population growth rate of at least two percent.
Another study presented at the conference found that the percentage of newly diagnosed patients infected with drug-resistant forms of HIV is increasing.
That increase limits the effectiveness of anti-AIDS drugs, the study concluded -- a trend that worries researchers.
"People are increasingly becoming infected with a virus that is difficult to treat," Dr. Frederick Hecht, of the University of California at San Francisco, reported.
The spread of a drug-resistant virus threatens treatment advances that have been credited in recent years with transforming AIDS/HIV from a fatal disease -- one where survival was measured in years -- to a chronic illness with survival potentially measured in decades.
Prevention of AIDS is expected to be the second major focus of the week-long Barcelona conference.
With the rapid spread of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa and emerging epidemics in China, India and eastern Europe, there is a wide consensus that more effective preventive measures are needed.
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