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AIDS in Africa

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Sub-Saharan Africa is home to 12.2% of the world's population, but 69% of all people living with HIV are found in this region. Because of their vulnerable position in society, children suffer worst of all, even when they are not sick themselves.

When parents become ill, it is often children who take on the role of caregiver, missing school and taking jobs to support their family. When their parents die, these same children are left in the care of grandparents or extended family, who struggle to make ends meet with the financial burden of extra mouths to feed. Some are left alone in child-headed households, working hard for their own survival, and often that of their brothers and sisters too.

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Here, you can find out more about the impact of HIV/AIDS on Africa's children, and what we are doing to help:

HIV/AIDS in Africa

An overwhelming problem

Two boys in Tlokweng, Botswana

In sub-Saharan Africa, almost 1 in 20 adults lives with HIV. In 2011, the global prevalence of HIV among adults aged 15-49 was 0.8%. In sub-Saharan Africa, however, the rate was as high as 4.9%. The regions with the next highest rate of infection are the Caribbean and Eastern Europe & Central Asia. In both these regions, prevalence stands at 1%; far lower than in sub-Saharan Africa.

The problem is worst in Southern Africa, although some countries in the Eastern and Central regions of the continent have high prevalence rates as well. Swaziland, Botswana and Lesotho are the most severely affected countries, with the 2011 infection rate in Swaziland running at over a quarter of the population.

Infection is not uniform across a population. In a country such as Swaziland, where 26% of people live with HIV, there are areas where nearly everyone is affected. In places like these, village after village has no young adults left. The scale of the problem is overwhelming.

Buckling healthcare

Vaccine and syringe hand

In many places, the infrastructure simply cannot cope with the strain. In sub-Saharan Africa, half of all hospital beds are occupied by people suffering from HIV-related conditions. Patients affected by HIV remain in hospital much longer than others, meaning that beds are often in short supply, particularly in poorer countries where capacity is low to begin with.

Many countries in sub-Saharan Africa suffer from a shortage of healthcare workers. In some cases, this is due to a drainage of skilled people out of the country to higher-paid jobs abroad. HIV itself is also responsible for the loss of health professionals. In some countries, HIV rates are so high that a large proportion of health workers are affected by the disease and are ultimately forced out of work by illness.

The impact on children

Children suffer worse than any other sector of society. Of the 23.5 million people living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa, 3.1 million are children. Children suffer indirectly as well as through infection. More children have been orphaned by AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa than in any other part of the world. Children's dependence on others for their welfare means that they are left particularly vulnerable when parents become sick or die.

A lost education

SOS Nursery in Canchungo, Guinea Bissau

Many leave education to be there for their mother or father, or to support themselves and siblings when their parents die. School is crucial to a happy, healthy life and a successful career, and many of these children suffer the effects of a disrupted education for the rest of their lives.

Education is also a hugely important tool in stemming HIV transmission. A good education equips children with an awareness about HIV/AIDS which often they do not get at home. They learn how to prevent infection, as well as how to manage and treat the condition if they are already living with HIV. Young people with a limited education are about twice as likely to contract the virus than those who have completed primary school.

A working childhood

Families need to eat, and when the main breadwinner is unable to provide, work is often the only option for children. Children take jobs to support their families, often in dangerous industries with hard working conditions. For some, prostitution is the only way to make money. Such work is deeply traumatising to children, and leads to further HIV transmission, contributing to the epidemic.

Child-headed households like these are at an immediate disadvantage. Not only do children lose out on their education, they also find it harder to access necessities such as adequate food, nutrition, healthcare and clothing. Many lose their homes because they cannot pay the bills.

What are we doing to help?

Ever since the HIV/AIDS outbreak reached epidemic proportions in sub-Saharan Africa, we have using our knowledge and experience to develop an effective approach to tackling the problem:

  • The Anti-AIDS Club run by young people in Niamey, Niger raises awareness in innovative waysRaising awareness to prevent spread: We work with communities from our SOS Social and Medical Centres to raise awareness about how HIV spreads, so people are equipped to avoid infection
  • Reducing mother-to-child transmission: The right treatment and feeding techniques can prevent the virus from passing from a mother to her child. We support mothers to protect the next generation
  • Testing and support: We offer HIV tests, diagnosing infection early so we can deliver treatment
  • Antiretroviral treatment: Antiretroviral (ARV) medication is extremely effective in reducing or eliminating symptoms, slowing the development of HIV into AIDS, and ultimately prolonging life. We provide ARVs at our medical centres
  • A home for orphans: We provide a loving family home in an SOS Children's Villages for many of the children left without parents by HIV/AIDS.

This is only the tip of the iceberg. Not only are our teams proactively involved in tackling HIV/AIDS, many of the children we care for are also doing their bit to raise awareness of this problem. Through Anti-AIDS Clubs, children and young people aim to tackle taboo areas which hinder prevention of transmission, and offer support networks for children who are affected.

Learn more about our work tackling one of sub-Saharan Africa's biggest challenges...

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