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HIV/AIDS in Zimbabwe Has Reduced Life Expectancy, Not Affecting Population Growth, Study Says

August 29, 2007

HIV/AIDS has reduced the life expectancy in Zimbabwe, but the country's overall population growth remains unchanged as births continue to outpace deaths, according to a study recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Reuters reports.

For the study, Simon Gregson of Imperial College London and colleagues examined an area in eastern Zimbabwe between 1998 and 2005. They found that the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the country has reduced the life expectancy in rural areas by 19 years among men and 22 years among women.

HIV/AIDS has reduced population growth by two-thirds in the most affected areas of Zimbabwe, but the overall growth rate remains unchanged at about 1% annually, Gregson said. The epidemic has had a "devastating effect on countries like Zimbabwe, but in terms of demographic impact, it has not had as much of an impact as some of the most pessimistic estimates," Gregson said, adding, "Our research shows that, in spite of countless people having lost their lives to the virus, more people are still being born than are dying."

According to Reuters, the purpose of the study was to test the accuracy of a 1989 World Health Organization study that estimated population growth rates in sub-Saharan Africa would become negative because of HIV/AIDS. Gregson said the 1989 estimates were inaccurate because researchers at the time did not realize that behavior contributing to the spread of the virus differed within populations and that transmission rates and other factors changed during the stages of infection. "The prevalence of HIV has been coming down in the last few years, and as more people receive treatment, we hope the death rate will also soon start to go down," Gregson said, adding that the effects of the HIV/AIDS epidemic are "substantial and still unfolding." Gregson said the new findings likely are representative of trends in other parts of Africa (Kahn, Reuters, 8/27).

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