Zimbabwe Reaches Out to Its Destitute AIDS Orphans
August 22, 2005
In Zimbabwe, an economic crisis that is pushing AIDS orphans deeper into poverty and hardship has prompted a government response to help cope with the problem. "It is so difficult, because of our economy, for some families when the mother and father are there, imagine when it is now the child who is head of the family," said Nellie Dhlembeu, the coordinator for the national plan of action for orphans at the social welfare ministry.
The ministry estimates that 1.1 million to 1.3 million of Zimbabwe's 5.8 million children have lost one or both parents to AIDS. High AIDS mortality in the country -- where just 20,000 out of an estimated 1.8 million people living with HIV/AIDS are receiving government-provided antiretroviral treatment -- means that "a Zimbabwean child is orphaned every 20 minutes," said Dhlembeu. A government survey in 2002 showed that about 50,000 households were headed by a child under age 15.
Since then, food shortages in Zimbabwe have worsened, and the unemployment rate hovers at 70 percent. Economists say the chances of a turnaround in the near future are slim.
The national plan seeks to increase school enrollment by 25 percent by December and limit the number of dropouts. It also hopes to register thousands of AIDS orphans who have no birth certificates. Rubin Musara, an advocacy officer at Child Protection Society, the country's oldest child rights group, estimates that 30 percent of Zimbabwe's AIDS orphans have no birth certificates because the law states that the mother must apply for the documents. Musara said efforts are underway to allow a sibling to apply for the certificate, or to otherwise make it easier to obtain one. "If you don't have an identity card, you can't get formally employed, you can't open a bank account, you can't write school exams," she said.
In addition, the government is working with UNICEF to seek $55 million to fund more community outreach programs for AIDS orphans.
Agence France Presse
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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.