The trends in AIDS-related deaths were reflected in the data gathered on the increasing number of orphans whose parents had succumbed to the epidemic. Four per cent of the households interviewed indicated they knew of orphans who had lost one or both parents (interviews, October-November 2002). The proportion of such respondents ranges from 5 per cent in Manicaland to 11 per cent in Matabeleland North, to 16 per cent in Mashonaland West to 25 per cent in Mashonaland East. The epidemic is certainly spreading faster than is commonly assumed. With a national orphan population climbing to 1 million, the evidence on the ground shows that a substantial proportion of these are the children of farm workers. This means that child-headed households now exist among them (FTCZ, 2002c).
One estimate is that there are at least two AIDS orphans on each farm, and that there are about 14,000 such orphans on farms (interviews, November, 2002). This figure is likely to be an underestimate. While about 65 per cent of them attend school, the remainder have dropped out, or cannot afford to pay for their education. AIDS orphans are particularly vulnerable, because the epidemic has put the extended family system under severe stress. They are often last in the ’food queue’. Farm worker communities are less and less able to care for orphans as adult incomes dwindle or disappear, and their future on farms become less and less secure (ibid). Little assistance appeared to come from the National AIDS Council, which commands considerable resources built on the AIDS levy paid by income-earners in the past few years. Such provision of resources to farm worker communities and especially to the ill and orphans would make an important difference. Most focus group discussions observed that there were no community-based schemes to provide care either to orphans or to those ill from HIV-AIDS related diseases. There were, for instance, no special resources and arrangements to make food more easily accessible to these groups.