Findings; The Problem


The Problem

AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa is a plague of biblical proportions.

AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa, notes The United Nations, is the “worst infectious disease catastrophe since the bubonic plague.”  Deaths due to AIDS in the region will soon surpass the 20 million people in Europe who died in the plague of 1347 and the more than 20 million people worldwide who died in the influenza epidemic of 1917.  Over the next decade, AIDS will kill more people in sub-Saharan Africa than the total number of casualties lost in all wars of the 20th century combined. 

While sub-Saharan Africa accounts for only one-tenth of the global population, it currently carries the burden of more than 80% of AIDS deaths worldwide: 

  • In the past decade, 12 million people in sub-Saharan Africa have died of AIDS – one-quarter of them children – and each day AIDS buries another 5,500 men, women and children. 
  • In 1998, AIDS was the largest killer and accounted for 1.8 million deaths in sub-Saharan Africa, nearly double the 1 million deaths from malaria and eight times the 209,000 deaths from tuberculosis.
  • By 2005, the daily death toll will reach 13,000 people with, nearly 5 million AIDS deaths in that year alone.

And yet, the pandemic rages on:

  • In sub-Saharan Africa, more than 22 million adults and 1 million children are currently living with HIV. 
  • Every day, 11,000 additional people are infected – one every 8 seconds.  
  • Since the Administration launched this effort on World AIDS Day (December 1, 1998), more than 2.5 million people in sub-Saharan Africa have been infected with HIV, 368,000 in South Africa alone.
  • Half of all new infections in southern Africa, and 10% of new infections worldwide, occur in South Africa, now experiencing the fastest growing AIDS disaster.

HIV Prevalence Trends
in Selected African Countries

HIV Prevalence Trends in Selected African Countries
Source: UNAIDS

Fragile health care systems are already buckling beneath the weight of the rapidly growing number of people with AIDS and the growing loss of health personnel as a result of AIDS. For example, The World Bank estimates that in Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Cote d'Ivoire, people with AIDS already occupy 50-80% of all beds in urban hospitals. In addition, the escalating incidence of tuberculosis (TB), the most common opportunistic infection associated with AIDS, now accounts for between one-third and one-half of all AIDS deaths in Africa.

AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa is stalking women and young people, shattering families, and placing extraordinary burdens on the extended family and village systems that have been the backbone of African child-rearing tradition.

While AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa is an equal opportunity killer, women, children, and young people are increasingly caught in the path of this relentless pandemic. 

All too often, cultural norms place women at heightened risk of HIV.  In many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, and around the world, discrimination against women begins early and continues throughout life.  Girls are far less likely to have access to education, information, and skill training.  And in turn, women are far less likely to have access to essential health care and income generating opportunities.  These realities increase their vulnerability to both poverty and HIV.

The low status of women in sub-Saharan Africa severely restricts their power to make informed and safe choices. As a result, more than half of all new HIV infections in sub-Saharan Africa are among women and 80% of the 14 million HIV-positive women of childbearing age worldwide reside in sub-Saharan Africa.  In many areas throughout the region, pregnant women have astronomically high rates of HIV infection including 73% in Beit Bridge, Zimbabwe and 43% in Francistown, Botswana.  Nine out of every ten infants infected with HIV at birth and through breastfeeding live in sub-Saharan Africa – with nearly 600,000 new infections each year among babies.

There are many places throughout the region where up to one-quarter of all children are already living with an HIV-positive parent.  And in nine sub-Saharan African countries, between one-fifth and one-third of all children will be orphaned by AIDS by the end of this year. In human terms, the AIDS orphan emergency is causing unprecedented threats to child welfare. This vulnerability includes decreased access to life-sustaining food, education, health care, housing, and clothing, and increased psychosocial distress brought on by the death of a parent, isolation, and stigma. These children are also at extraordinary risk of physical and sexual abuse as well as child labor exploitation.  And while most of these orphans were born HIV-negative – this vulnerability leaves them at seriously increased risk of becoming HIV infected themselves. 

Tragically, the worst is yet to come.  During the next decade, more than 40 million children will be orphaned by AIDS, and this "slow burn disaster" is not expected to peak until at least 2O3O.  According to UNICEF, the AIDS pandemic in sub-Saharan Africa is having and will continue to have a more significant impact on child survival and maternal mortality than all other emergencies on the continent combined.   Without a doubt, AIDS has placed an entire generation of Africa's children in jeopardy.

In 9 sub-Saharan African countries,
one-fifth to one-third of all children
under the age of 15 will be orphaned by the year 2000
Children Orphaned by AIDS in 9 sub-Saharan Countries

Source: USAID

AIDS is wiping out decades of progress on a host of development objectives. After hundreds of millions of dollars of donor investment and well-documented results, AIDS is now turning back the development clock to the 1960s. In the coming decade in many areas of sub-Saharan Africa, infant mortality (those less than one year old) will double and child mortality (those under age five) will triple. In addition, despite steady advances in access to education, a rapidly increasing number of children (particularly girls) are now dropping out of school to act as substitute labor or as caregivers for their dying parents.  Far too few are finding their way back to school. Finally, according to the US Census Bureau, AIDS has already reduced life expectancy in Zimbabwe by 25 years and in Zambia from 56 years old to 37.  In the next few years, AIDS will reduce life expectancy in South Africa by a third, from 60 years old to 40.

Projected Under-5 Mortality Rates
in 2010 for Selected African Countries

Projected Under-5 Mortality Rates in 2010 for Selected African Countries
Source: US Census Bureau


AIDS is not only causing unfathomable human suffering, it is jeopardizing economic growth, political stability, and civil society in many sub-Saharan African nations.

AIDS is a trade and investment issueThe Blueprint for a US/Africa Partnership for the 21st Century, adopted at the US/Africa Ministerial Meeting states: “African-US economic ties continue to grow.  For example, US exports to Africa grew more rapidly in 1998 than did US exports to most other regions and are now 45% greater than its exports to all countries of the former Soviet Union combined.  As a source of crude oil, Africa is as important to the United States as the Persian Gulf.  On a balance of payment basis, American private investment consistently produces a higher rate of return in Africa than in any other region.”

According to Professor Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Harvard Institute for International Development, "a frontal attack on AIDS in Africa may now be the single most important strategy for economic development." This is true because as the Southern Africa AIDS Information Dissemination Service estimates, over the next 20 years AIDS will reduce by a fourth the economies of sub-Saharan Africa.  In fact, this AIDS related economic impact has already begun.  According to the Economist, a recent study in Namibia estimated that AIDS costs the country almost 8% of GNP in 1996 and by 2005, Kenya's GNP will be 14.5% smaller than it would have been without AIDS. In Tanzania, The World Bank predicts that GNP will be 15-25% lower as a result of AIDS. The South African government estimates that AIDS costs the country 2% of GNP each year.

AIDS has hit professionals hard in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly civil servants, engineers, teachers, miners, and military personnel. In Malawi and Zambia, 30% of teachers are HIV-positive, and in Zambia, 1,500 teachers died of AIDS in 1998 alone.  In South Africa, 1 in 5 miners is currently infected with HIV.  Uganda Railways has already lost 5,600 employees (10% of its workforce) to AIDS and now has an AIDS-related labor turnover rate of 15% annually.  And in Zimbabwe, a major transportation company employing 12,000 workers found that by 1996 more than one-third were already HIV positive. According to a World Bank study in Kigali, Rwanda, 34% of people with post-secondary education were HIV positive, compared to 18% of those with primary education, and civil servants were more than three times more likely to be HIV-positive than farmers.

Increased benefits and training costs, and the disruption to regular production due to sick and bereavement leave, are seriously affecting both the private and public sectors. A study in South Africa found that at current levels of benefits per employee, the total cost of benefits would rise from 7% of salaries in 1995 to 19% by 2005 due to AIDS. Companies like British Petroleum and Barclays Bank have stated that they are now hiring two employees for every one skilled job, assuming that one will die of AIDS.  The Indeni Petroleum Refinery in Zambia reportedly spent more on AIDS-related costs than it declared in profits.

Annual Costs of AIDS Per Employee in
Various Industries in Selected Sub-Saharan African Countries

Annual Costs of AIDS Per Employee in Various Industries in Selected Sub-Saharan African Countries
Source:  Futures Group International,  USAID Policy Project, 1999.

AIDS is a security and stability issue.
According to the Economist, "the estimated HIV prevalence in the seven armies embroiled in the Congo range from 50% to 80%." Recent reports project that the South African military and police are also already heavily infected by HIV. Moreover, as these troops participate in an increasing number of regional interventions and peacekeeping operations, the pace of the epidemic is likely to accelerate. Extremely high levels of HIV infection among senior officers could lead to rapid turnover in those positions. In countries where the military plays a central or strong role in government, such rapid turnover could weaken the central government's authority. For those countries in political transition, instability in the military and security forces could slow or even reverse the transition process.  This dynamic merits attention, not only in Africa where the pandemic is already entrenched, but also in India and the Newly Independent States where the pandemic is intensifying its grip.

AIDS is a crime issue. The South African Institute for Security Studies has linked the growing number of children orphaned by AIDS to future increases in crime and civil unrest. The assumption is that as the number of disaffected, troubled, and undereducated young people increases, many sub-Saharan African countries may face serious threats to their social stability. Without appropriate intervention, many of the two million children projected to be orphaned by AIDS in South Africa alone will raise themselves on the streets, often turning to crime, drugs, commercial sex, and gangs to survive. This seriously affects stability and promotes the spread of HIV among these highly vulnerable young people.

Street school for street kidsIn Lusaka, Zambia alone, 100,000 children are estimated to be living on the streets. Most have been orphaned by AIDS. By the year 2000, one million children in Zambia, or one out of every three children, will be orphaned by AIDS.  Hundreds and hundreds of these children spend their nights on Cairo Road, sleeping in gutters and in trees, hoping to remain out of the “line of fire”.  Some are new to the streets, others have called it home for years.  The longer they stay, the harder they get.  In an effort to survive, too many are forced into crime, sex, and drug operations.  While none would actually “choose” this life, once they “belong to the streets” it is difficult to turn back.  Though good data are lacking, it is likely that HIV infection is spreading like wildfire among these children.  Given their grim reality, it is amazing that as the dawn breaks, so many of them gather at the gate of the Fountain of Hope to attend school.  While this school is simply a collection of wooden benches around outdoor blackboards, the desire to learn among these hungry, homeless children gives us hope.


As goes Africa, so will go India, South-East Asia, and the Newly Independent States, and by 2005, more than 100 million people worldwide will be HIV-positive.

According to current projections, by 2005, AIDS deaths in Asia will mirror those in Africa. As the world's most populous continent, Asia will soon come to dominate the HIV picture accounting for one out of every four infections worldwide by the end of the year.  Already, trends suggest that Asia may surpass Africa with the highest number of new infections.

India is increasingly at the center of the global epidemic, with more HIV infected people than any other country in the world – an estimated 5 million.  While the current death rate remains low in comparison to sub-Saharan Africa, infection rates are increasing rapidly and are expected to double every 14 months.  Surveillance of the disease is particularly difficult in India as cultural norms, gender inequities, and stigma continue to drive the epidemic underground.  As a result, AIDS cases in India are thought to be under-diagnosed, and therefore, poorly treated.  By 2000, AIDS will cost India $11 billion or 5% of GNP.

According to Surgeon General Satcher, “It was only a few years ago that epidemiologists offered projections of disease prevalence for sub-Saharan Africa that were met with disbelief.  If the present warnings go unheeded, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and, perhaps, China will follow the disastrous course of sub-Saharan Africa.”

The Newly Independent States have also registered astronomical growth in HIV infection rates over the past few years.  In the last four years alone, Eastern Europe and Central Asia have seen six-fold increases in HIV infections.

In the Russian Federation, HIV infections have increased 27-fold between 1994-1997.  And in the Ukraine, HIV infections have increased 70-fold.  Injection drug use now accounts for 80% of new infections in the Russian Federation and the increasing number of new users signals a growing dual epidemic of AIDS and drugs.


Region Epidemic Started Adults & Children Living With HIV/AIDS Adults & Children Newly Infected
With HIV
Sub-Saharan Africa
Late 70's - Early 80's
22,500,000 4,000,000
South & South-East Asia
Late 80's
7,260,000 1,400,000
Eastern Europe & Central Asia
Early 90's
270,000 80,000

Source:  UNAIDS



President and First Lady | Vice President and Mrs. Gore
Record of Progress | The Briefing Room
Gateway to Government | Contacting the White House | White House for Kids
White House History | White House Tours | Help
Privacy Statement


Site Map

Graphic Version

T H E   W H I T E   H O U S E