The impact of AIDS on adult mortality since 1999 has led to a decline in life expectancy at birth in 23 African countries, according to the "2004 Report on the global AIDS epidemic", published by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). UN agencies have warned that the epidemic has cut to less than forty years the life expectancy in seven countries in sub-Saharan Africa-Central African Republic, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Zambia--and their human development index has been thrown back to 1990 levels. The average life expectancy of a person born between 1995 and 2000 in these seven countries is 13 years lower than in the absence of AIDS. In 2003, the pandemic was responsible for 2.2 million deaths in sub-Saharan Africa alone.
Clearly, AIDS is accountable for a devastating decline in life expectancy in Africa, affecting mainly the eastern and southern regions of the continent. If current infection rates continue and there is no large-scale treatment programme, up to 60 per cent of today's 15-year-olds will not reach their sixtieth birthday. "The consequences of this decline in the life expectancy are extremely serious and point to greater reversals in overall human development, since AIDS affects all social institutions that are needed to develop and maintain safe and equitable societies", Dr. Desmond Johns, Director of the UNAIDS New York Office, told the UN Chronicle.
AIDS is much more than just a health problem, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, where the life expectancy in 2004 has dropped in some instances to the levels during the great famines of the 1970s. Current estimates suggest that countries which reach HIV-prevalence levels of 15 per cent among adults will on average lose 1 per cent of their gross domestic product every year. As Dr. Johns points out: "AIDS affects all sectors in society, and in heavily affected countries it is justifiably characterized as the social and economic productivity indicators and, therefore, it is justified to be characterized as a developmental crisis." Predictions for the longer term suggest that these heavily affected countries will have a disproportionate number of child-headed households...