AIDS continues to claim a devastating toll in southern Africa. Some countries have an HIV infection rate of 38.5 percent. In poverty-stricken Zambia, dependent on its copper mines for 90 percent of its income, mining companies "have to train four people for each skilled job in the knowledge that three will die." Other nations in southern Africa are similarly affected.

Why is this region of the world suffering more than others?

One reason is its migrant-labor system. Many of the region's peoples have homes in their ancestral homeland but spend most of the year living in hotels near their place of work, leaving their families behind. A high percentage of these workers are men who frequent prostitutes or have girlfriends with high rates of HIV infection. In this region of the world, AIDS is almost exclusively a heterosexual problem.

"A typical problem is as follows. One of southern Mozambique's 40,000 migrants to the Rand (South Africa's mining belt) comes home on leave. He may have been infected by a prostitute (surveys suggest 80 percent of these are HIV-positive) or perhaps by a local girl in a nearby township with whom he has been having a longer-standing affair (60 percent infection rate). He probable knows about condoms; indeed, they are generally dished out free at the mine. But with his township girl he does not use one, nor with his wife. She then becomes infected. In due course a child is born who is probably infected at birth or, it not, through breast-feeding.

"The father is usually the first to die. Then, in Mozambique and Zambia, the father's brother will often step in to help look after the children. He will, by tradition, take the mother as a second wife. He will then be infected too. In due course, she will die."

Most poverty-stricken countries have no social security system other than the extended family system. "The social security system is the family, and this is now in ruins." In some villages all the people of reproductive age (15-45) are dead, leaving elderly grandparents to raise young children, with little or no support.

Intensive educational programs warn people of the dangers from HIV, and condoms are readily available. However, ignorance and superstition complicate the problem, with many placing their faith in traditional witch doctors or taking a fatalistic approach to the problem. Others believe that sex with a virgin is a cure, resulting in babies as young as 3 months being raped.

(Source: The Economist)