Negative population growth due to AIDS now a possibility

Some believe that one good thing about HIV/AIDS is that over-population will decrease. But negative population growth due to HIV/AIDS is by no means the good news for sustainable growth and development that some seem to think that it is.

While populations of the economically dependant, such as orphans, the aged and the sick, expand – the numbers of healthy adults in their economically active years who are left to care for them, will drastically be reduced.

These are some of the population research findings reported at The Joint Population Conference held in Port Elizabeth recently.

It was previously believed that HIV/AIDS would not impact on overall population growth. But it is now thought that the South African population will in all likelihood stop growing as a result of HIV/AIDS, said Ian Timaeus from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

High numbers of AIDS deaths will play a role, but so will the impact of HIV/AIDS on fertility.

The effects of HIV/AIDS on fertility is three-fold, said Rose Smart, previous Director of the HIV/AIDS and STD’€™s Directorate in the National Department of Health, who is currently conducting independent research on the impact of AIDS on children.

Firstly, the number of births is reduced because women die before reaching the end of their child-bearing years. Secondly, HIV infection and AIDS themselves reduce fertility. Finally, increased condom use may reduce fertility, said Smart.

The US Bureau of the Census now predicts that by as soon as 2003, South Africa will be experiencing negative population growth as adults of child-bearing age, and many of their infants, die from HIV/AIDS.

The US Bureau of the Census also estimates that by 2010, child mortality will have risen to 146.6 per 1000 as a result of AIDS. Child mortality rates have already risen to 119.6 per 1000.

“It is hard to envisage how society will function when one in five children dies before it’€™s fifth birthday,” says Prof Alan Whiteside, Director of the Health Economics and HIV/AIDS Research Division at the University of Natal.

But a declining fertility rate and increasingly high death-rates will do nothing to halt the population explosion of orphans which we can expect.

By 2015, orphans will comprise nine to 12% of the South African population. There will be 3.6 ‘€“ 4.8 million orphaned children, said Smart.

Pre-AIDS, the average percentage of orphaned children in any developing country was 2%.

“If up to one-third of the next generation begin their adult lives scarred by the experience of orphanhood, this will have long-term negative effects whose impact on their nation’€™s future can only be pondered with misgiving,” said Smart, quoting from a UNICEF statement.

According to Jaques van Zuydam, Chief Director of the National Population Unit, Department of Social Development, there will also be a doubling or a trebling of over-65 year-olds in our society. “By 1016, over 5% of the population will be older than 65 years”, said van Zuydam. ‘€“ Health-e news service

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