Project: The African AIDS Pandemic

Africa home to 12 million AIDS orphans

by John Carr

HIV/AIDS advertsement painted on the wall of a
small school in Kasane, Botswana.

With its severe political, social and economic effects, HIV/AIDS devastates every aspect of life. HIV/AIDS affects households, children and the entire health care system.

Those infected with HIV/AIDS have a poor quality of life because of the horrid effects of the disease. However, those living with the infected also experience a decrease in the quality of life. The disease breaks families apart. With parents dying, children are orphaned; there are more than 12 million AIDS orphans in Africa. Households are forced to take on extra family members. Infected or not, these family members cost more money, which is difficult for the average African budget. This crisis strips families of their belongings, income and stability.

In Botswana, experts estimate every working citizen will gain at least another dependent — mother, father, nephew or niece — over the next ten years as a consequence of HIV/AIDS. The increased cost of the dependent pushes families further into poverty and causes them to spend less on food and basic necessities of life. It often leads children into prostitution, which in turn furthers the HIV/AIDS epidemic

Health care for the sick is very expensive. Across Africa, most families cannot afford formal health care. Just to take care of a HIV/AIDS patient costs on average about one-third of a household income. Their inevitable death brings added costs: on average, a funeral costs the same as three months of household income.

Children are forced to deal with the circumstances. When they lose a mother or a father, or both, children lose their childhood, too. It is customary for the child to take care of a sick parent or sibling if possible or, if old enough, earn an income for the household, usually ending the chance for the child to go to school, and neglecting their basic, health care and nutrition needs as well.

As the number of those infected continues to soar, so does the need for the health care industry to provide care to those infected. In central, eastern and southern Africa, over 50 percent of hospital beds are vacated by an HIV/AIDS related illness. This forces hospitals to admit only those in the later stage of the illness, thus decreasing their chance of survival. The African health care system also is facing a shortage of qualified professionals because a significant number of those working are also suffering from HIV/AIDS. A study in Botswana found 17 percent of employees in hospitals are HIV positive.

It is difficult for a community to survive when HIV/AIDS destroys households, mistreats children and breaks down the only means of help by overburdening a fragile health care system.