Impact of hiv/aids on Africa

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Impact of HIV/AIDS on Africa
The number of people with HIV/AIDS has increased rapidly since AIDS was first identified in 1981. HIV/AIDS is now found in every country in the world, although Africa has been worst hit.

In 2003:

  • 38 million people were living with HIV

  • 2.9 million people died of AIDS

  • 4.8 million people were infected with HIV

  • there were 14,000 new infections every day

HIV/AIDS in Africa

There are 25 million people living with HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa, that’s almost 70% of the world total. Sub-Saharan Africa contains many different countries, and infection rates differ greatly between countries. In six countries less than 2% of adults are infected (Mauritania 0.6%, Senegal 0.8%, Gambia and Niger 1.2%, Benin and Mali 1.9%) but in another 6 countries more than 20% of adults are infected (Namibia 22.3%, South Africa 21.5%, Zimbabwe 24.6%, Lesotho 28.8%, Botswana 37.3%, Swaziland 38.8%, source UNAIDS, 2004b.) Within countries, urban areas are often worse hit than rural.

The impact of HIV/AIDS on the population of sub-Saharan Africa

Since 1999, life expectancy has declined in 38 countries and average life expectancy for the worst hit African countries is 13 years less than it would be without HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS, 2004a.) Life expectancy in these countries could soon be reduced to 30 years (US agency for international development, 2002.)
Most of the people dying are young adults and young children. By 2025 there will be far fewer people aged 30-60 years than there would be without HIV/AIDS. At the moment there 12 million African children who have been orphaned because of HIV/AIDS, and the problem will get worse as more young adults die.

The impact of HIV/AIDS on the development of sub-Saharan Africa

HIV/AIDS is undoing decades of health, social and economic progress and making poverty worse. Death, illness and absence of workers due to HIV/AIDS, has reduced annual economic growth in some African countries by up to 2%. The loss of the workforce is predicted to get worse, and this will further slow economic progress. Individual families suffer reduced income whilst costs for medicine, food and funerals rise.
The reduction in economic growth has seriously reduced the amount of money governments have to spend on services such as health (UNAIDS, 2004a.) At the same time, health services are struggling to cope with increased demand for care and loss of skilled staff. Consequently they are desperate for extra funding. This has pushed the cost of healthcare onto patients, but many people cannot afford the treatment they need.
Education systems are also threatened by a lack of government resources and a loss of skilled workers. Many children are taken out of school to help look after their families, to work, or because there is not enough money for fees. These children miss out on the skills and qualifications they need to find a good job in the future. They also miss vital health education information.

Why is HIV/AIDS such a big problem in sub-Saharan Africa?

Sub-Saharan Africa is particularly badly affected because the majority of people are poor. Poor people in sub-Saharan Africa:

Poor countries cannot afford to provide the infrastructure and resources to make health care and education available to everyone.
Other factors leading to the spread of HIV in parts of sub-Saharan Africa include:

  • The low status of women meaning they are less able to insist on safe sex, and more likely to be victims of sexual violence.

  • Instability and war

  • Stigma and discrimination against infected people and unwillingness to talk about the disease.

What can be done?

There are two things that need to be done:

  • Prevent people from becoming infected

  • Treat people who are infected to improve life expectancy and quality of life

Preventing HIV

    1. Reduce poverty

Just as the main cause of HIV/AIDS is poverty, the best way of dealing with HIV/AIDS is to reduce poverty. This would mean more people were educated about risks such as unsafe sex, people would not have to do risky work such as sex work, and people would be able to get testing, treatment and resources such as condoms and needles.

“I am 31 years old. I have come here to the mine to do sex work to support my family and children back in Transkei. Nobody in my family is employed, so it is only me earning any money.” Nosipo Mpetshwa, South Africa

    1. Provide education

Effective sex education encourages people to talk to each other and helps them make changes in their lives to protect themselves. Throughout sub-Saharan Africa, marches, theatre and dance help educate large numbers of people.

    1. Fight prejudice and discrimination

If people talk about the problem they are more likely to know how to protect themselves, more likely to be tested for HIV, and more likely to cope with the disease if they are infected.
“I have inspired many people in the community to come out openly and live positively with HIV. I know I will not be around for a long time, so I want others to learn and start teaching others so that when I die, there will be others to do the job.”

Florence Kumunhyu, Uganda.

4. Make testing, counselling and treatment available

People who know they are infected are less likely to infect others. If people know they can get treatment they are more likely to be tested.

5. Build the status of women

In Africa there are more women than men becoming infected. If women were able to insist on safe sex they would be less likely to become infected. Educated women are more likely to know about HIV, more likely to earn a good income, and less likely to do sex work.

Treating HIV

HIV cannot be cured but it can be treated, allowing infected people to live a long productive life. However, treatment is very expensive so poor people can’t afford it. This is partly because companies making medicines can register a patent on them. That gives the company all rights to the medicine and no-one is allowed to make copies of it. There is no competition so the company is free to sell the medicine at any price they chose.
“I was given some drugs, which made me feel much better, but I cannot afford them now. I have heard that in overseas countries the government provides drugs free for people with AIDS, but here in South Africa there is nothing now. At the clinic they often say that there is nothing they can do. You must go home. It is not fair. People overseas can get better from the good drugs they are given, while we in South Africa have to die.”

Mzokhona Malevu (29)

Uganda: a success story

AIDS was first recognised in Uganda in the early 1980s and within 10 years Uganda had become more affected than any other country. About 15% of the adult population were HIV-positive and the prevention programmes were not working.
The turning point came about when the government decided to bring the issue into the open. Government, individuals and community groups acted, and effective HIV/AIDS programmes were introduced. By 2001, HIV infection rates decreased to 5%. Although there is still work to be done, Uganda has shown that it is possible to reduce the impact of HIV/AIDS in a LEDC.


Bell, C., Gersbach, H. and Devarajan, 2004, The long-run economic costs of AIDS: Theory and an application to south Africa, Heidelberg University and World Bank.

UNAIDS, 2004a, 2004 report on the global AIDS epidemic,
UNAIDS, 2004b, AIDS epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa.
US Agency for International Development, 2002

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