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AIDS Could Slash Work Force

Africa: Sub-Saharan countries might lose 25% of their labor by 2020, a U.N. official says.

July 09, 2002

BARCELONA, Spain — A top U.N. health official warned Monday that some African countries could lose a quarter of their work force to AIDS in the next 20 years.

The 14th International AIDS Conference began its first full day with scientific briefings and updates on the disease, which officials say is now the worst epidemic ever faced by mankind.

Bernhard Schwartlander, director of the HIV/AIDS department of the World Health Organization, said more than 20% of adults in seven sub-Saharan African countries are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. In Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland and Zimbabwe, the rate is one in three.

He warned that the loss of workers due to AIDS could stunt economic growth and undermine key sectors of society in the worst-hit countries.

"By 2020, more than 25% of the work force in some countries may be lost to AIDS," he said.

Already in Kenya, AIDS accounts for up to three of every four deaths in the police force, while Swaziland would have to train 13,000 new teachers over the next 17 years to maintain services.

The U.N. AIDS agency warned last week that the epidemic is still in its infancy and could kill 70 million people over the next 20 years as it spreads deeper into Asia and Eastern Europe.

While antiretroviral drugs make HIV/AIDS manageable for many people in rich Western countries, the disease claims millions of lives in poor countries, where few can afford the treatment.

AIDS activists are calling for drug prices to be slashed and for antiretrovirals to be made available to at least 2 million people in developing countries within the next two years.

Many speakers condemned a poor response to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Global AIDS fund to raise money to fight the epidemic. Less than $3 billion of its $10-billion goal has been raised.

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