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Number of Orphans in Zimbabwe Increasing Primarily Because of HIV/AIDS, Survey Says

July 19, 2007

Almost one-quarter of all children in Zimbabwe are orphans, primarily because of the country's HIV/AIDS epidemic, according to a recent survey conducted by Zimbabwe's Central Statistics Office in collaboration with Maryland-based ORC Macro, the Boston Globe reports. According to the survey, which was conducted in 2006, nearly 22% of all children under age 18 in the country have lost one or both parents, compared with 9% in 1994 and 14% in 1999. Zimbabwe has an adult HIV prevalence of 18%, the survey found.

According to some HIV/AIDS specialists, the number of orphans in the country is linked to its long economic and health crises, which began in the 1990s and were driven by polices implemented by President Robert Mugabe. In addition, the country's health care infrastructure has "disintegrated" -- a situation that is reflected in Zimbabwe's declining childhood immunization rates and increasing rates of stunted growth among children -- according to the Globe. "The numbers on immunization reflect the broader economic decline and the consequent meltdown in the public health care sector," outgoing U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe Christopher Dell said, adding, "Thousands and thousands of health care workers have left the country."

According to Zanele Sibanda-Knight, advocacy coordinator for the Firelight Foundation, the rate of AIDS-related deaths is higher in Zimbabwe than surrounding countries because fewer people have access to antiretroviral drugs in the country. Vinod Mishra, director of research at ORC Macro, said that increasing access to antiretrovirals likely would decrease the number of orphans in Zimbabwe.

According to some analysts, the number of orphans in Zimbabwe likely is similar to the number in other Southern African countries. Jennifer Delaney, executive director of Global Action for Children, said that the survey's findings reveal the need to expand HIV/AIDS programs throughout the continent (Donnelly, Boston Globe, 7/18).

Germany, New Zealand, Sweden and the United Kingdom in February pledged $70 million to Zimbabwe to help the country address the growing number of children who have lost one or both parents to AIDS-related illnesses. The funding will be administered jointly by UNICEF, nongovernmental organizations and the government to ensure that AIDS orphans have access to services such as education and health care. The $70 million will go toward a five-year, $250 million program aimed at AIDS orphans in Zimbabwe (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 2/20).

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