Aids In Africa

Alexis Howard

The staggering number of African children already orphaned due to disease is only the beginning of a crisis of gargantuan proportions . . . and the worst is yet to come," a study issued by UNICEF recently reported. "AIDS has already orphaned more than 13 million African children, half of whom are between the ages of 10 and 14. The countries that will see the largest increases in the number of orphans -- are those with HIV prevalence levels already higher than previously thought possible, exceeding 30 percent. More than 80 per cent of these boys and girls will have lost one or both parents due to AIDS. Even in countries where HIV prevalence has stabilized or fallen, like Uganda, the numbers of orphans will stay high or rise as parents already infected continue to die from the disease. Children and young people whose parents have become infected with AIDS virus begin to suffer even before a parent or caregiver has died, the study goes on to say. Since children are unable to earn the same income as their parents, household income plummets. As a result, there is little money for food, clothing, medicine or other basic necessities. Education is interrupted and many children are forced to drop out to either care for a dying parent or go to work to earn money for others who may be too young. Children become depressed and feel alienated from their peers as well as from their families.

The loss of a parent not only has an immense emotional impact on children but for most families can spell financial hardship. One survey on HIV’s impact on households found that, “80% of the sample would lose more than half their per capita income with the death of the highest income earner, suggesting a lingering and debilitating shock of death.

HIV/AIDS alters family structures: when their adult children die older persons once again become the head of the household, providing care for orphaned children. The number of grandparents caring for AIDS orphans in developing countries has doubled over the last ten years and up to half of the world’s 15 million AIDS orphans are being cared by a grandparent. The majority of older caregivers are women who face serious financial, physical and emotional stress due to their belated care giving responsibilities.

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