Life expectancy in southern Africa, the region of the world hardest-hit by AIDS, has dropped to 49 years and without large-scale treatment programs could plummet to below 35 years in some countries, a UN AIDS report said yesterday.
Food shortages in at least six countries are also giving AIDS a "magnifying effect" exacerbating problems surrounding poverty, the plight of women and the government's ability to respond, the report said.
On average, the prevalence rate in southern Africa is about 25 percent with AIDS and HIV affecting, in order of magnitude for last year, 38.8 percent of adults in Swaziland, 37.3 percent in Botswana, 28.9 percent in Lesotho and 24.6 percent in Zimbabwe.
"In seven African countries where HIV prevalence exceeds 20 percent, the average life expectancy of a person born between 1995 and 2000 is now 49 years -- 13 years less than in the absence of AIDS," said the UN's 2004 Global Report on AIDS.
"In the worst affected countries of eastern and southern Africa the probability of a 15-year-old dying before reaching age 60 has risen dramatically," said the report, which is being released worldwide.
South Africa, which has the largest number of people living with AIDS at 4.8 million, has a prevalence rate of 21.5 percent, while 16.5 percent of adults are living with HIV and AIDS in Zambia, 21.3 percent in Namibia, 14.2 percent in Malawi and 12.2 percent in Mozambique.
Infection rates are still climbing in some countries, the report said, adding that while HIV and AIDS may appear to be making fewer inroads in others, that may be because the death rates conceal the continuing high rate of new infections.
"In Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe, the average life expectancy of people born over the next decade is projected to drop below 35 years in the absence of anti-retroviral treatment," the report added.
"Unless the AIDS response is dramatically strengthened, by 2025, 38 African countries will have populations which will be 14 percent smaller than predicted in the absence of AIDS," it said.
As in the rest of Africa, more women are suffering from HIV and AIDS than men in southern Africa, with 20 women affected for every 10 men in South Africa.
The UN report said a combination of factors were working in concert to fan the spread of AIDS in southern Africa.
"These factors include poverty and social instability that result in family disruption, high levels of other sexually transmitted infections, the low status of women, sexual violence and ineffective leadership during critical periods in the spread of HIV," it said.
A food crisis in the region is also worsening the situation.
"In six of the 10 highest prevalence countries -- Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe -- more than 15 million people required emergency food aid due to widespread chronic and acute food shortages," it said.
Food shortages were triggered by adverse weather conditions and a "series of policy and governance-related failures that seriously affected food production," the report said.
"AIDS made the situation worse," it said, highlighting countries like Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe where households with sick adults had "marked reductions in agricultural production and income generation."
The report said AIDS has spread rapidly in many southern African countries, including Swaziland where the average prevalence among pregnant women was 39 percent -- up from 34 percent in 2000 and only 4 percent in 1990.