HIV-aids orphans a time bomb for sa

STRONG MESSAGE: School children listening to speeches at the official opening of a three-day HIV-Aids expo at Mary Fitzgerald Square in
Newtown on the eve of World Aids Day. Pic: Bafana Mahlangu. 30/11/2009. © Sowetan.
STRONG MESSAGE: School children listening to speeches at the official opening of a three-day HIV-Aids expo at Mary Fitzgerald Square in Newtown on the eve of World Aids Day. Pic: Bafana Mahlangu. 30/11/2009. © Sowetan.

WHILE South Africa's HIV infection rate may have stabilised, experts warn that the country's slow AIDS response has triggered a time bomb that may leave one in three children orphaned.

WHILE South Africa's HIV infection rate may have stabilised, experts warn that the country's slow AIDS response has triggered a time bomb that may leave one in three children orphaned.

"Estimates show that by 2015, some 5,700000 or 32percent of all children in South Africa would have lost one or both parents due to HIV-Aids," Gail Eddy, a researcher at the Institute of Race Relations, said.

Last year, there were 1,5million Aids orphans according to the country's health department.

Eddy said as the epidemic continues to shorten the lives of parents more children were going to be orphaned and the number of child-headed households would also increase.

The government currently provides support to about 238000 Aids orphans and to more than 20000 homes where older children care for younger siblings after their parents die from the virus.

Eddy said orphans needed additional support that was not necessarily monetary in nature as these children had also lost their primary caregiver.

"What exacerbates the lack of support for these children is that South Africa has a shortage of social workers who are responsible for identifying vulnerable children and providing them with the necessary support," she said.

Nearly 495000 Aids orphans are in foster care, but the government is encouraging more adoptions so orphans can have permanent families.

But only a tiny fraction of the Aids orphans, about 1900, were adopted by South Africans last year, a drop of nearly 13percent from the previous year.

"If the status quo is maintained, South Africa will be faced with a major crisis in the future, due to the social and economic consequences of increasing numbers of orphans and child-headed households," Eddy said.

A recent study by the Harvard School of Public Health said the failure to provide anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) to Aids patients in South Africa led to the premature deaths of 365000 people between 2000-2005.

UNAIDS estimates indicate that 5,7million out of nearly 48million South Africans are living with HIV, up from 5,5million in 2005.

That puts South Africa in first place for the number infected, but only about a million people are getting the cocktail of ARVs that prevent people with HIV from developing full-blown Aids and extends their lifetimes.

Activists and the current government lay the blame for the rapid spread of the disease squarely on former president Thabo Mbeki's policies as he delayed the roll out of ARVs, questioning the link between HIV and Aids.

His infamous health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang promoted the use of lemon juice, garlic and beetroot above ARVs, which she said were toxic.

Gail Johnson, founder of Nkosi's Haven, a shelter for 100 HIV-infected mothers and their 183 children, said South Africa lost valuable time due to the delays by Mbeki's government to roll out the much needed ARVs. - Sapa-AFP

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