February 27, 2003

U.N. Says AIDS Will Reduce Population by 480 Million


LONDON -- AIDS is ravaging world population growth far more significantly than United Nations demographers had projected as recently as two years ago, according to the new report.

The U.N. estimates that by 2050, the population of the nations hit hardest by AIDS will rise by 480 million fewer people because of the impact of AIDS. Only two years ago, U.N. demographers had projected that AIDS would result in 300 million fewer people by midcentury. The latest estimate reflects both additional AIDS deaths than previously expected and fewer births caused by the early deaths of women of childbearing age.

That chilling revision reflects a "more serious and prolonged impact of the epidemic," according to new figures published Wednesday by the U.N. population division.

"It's a catastrophe," says Joseph Chamie, director of the U.N. population division. "We have to bring down mortality in these countries."

India alone accounts for about 47 million of the increased number of expected AIDS deaths, while China accounts for 40 million, in proportion with those nations' huge population. But in relative terms, the AIDS epidemic will be more devastating to African populations than the U.N.'s demographers previously had anticipated.

Most of the 53 nations hit the worst by AIDS are in sub-Saharan Africa where Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe report more than 20% of their populations are infected with HIV. The U.N. projects that, in just a dozen years, the population in these places will be 19% lower than it would have been without AIDS.

The main reason for the higher death projections is the unexpected increase in HIV prevalence, especially in high-population countries such as India, China, Russia and Nigeria. In such places "even a small difference has a big effect on the number of excess deaths," when compared with previous estimates, Mr. Chamie says.

Botswana, where nearly a third of all adults are infected with the HIV virus, will be among the hardest hit. Life expectancy there already has plunged from 65 years in the period from 1990 to 1995 to 56.3 years between 1995 and 2000. In the coming two years, life expectancy there is expected to drop to 39.7 years. The U.N.'s projections suggest that Botswana's population will reach 1.4 million by mid-century, down 20% from 2000. Population declines also are expected in South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland.

Write to Gautam Naik at [email protected]
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Updated February 27, 2003

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