According to UNICEF, there are over 12 million orphaned children in sub Saharan Africa, and about 1.5 million in Tanzania alone. That number is accelerating rapidly, largely due to the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
Thanks to advances in medical technology more HIV positive women are being given drugs so that they do not pass on the disease to their unborn child.
However, the vast majority of women are not receiving the life saving drugs themselves. As a result, about 2/3 of HIV positive pregnant women in Tanzania will give birth to healthy children, who will ultimately lose their mothers, and probably their fathers. 1/3 of the infants will become infected. They may appear healthy for a few years, but will most likely die before age 5.
Before the onset of AIDS, most orphans in Tanzania could be absorbed by extended family or community. Now however, the “middle generation” is dying and the millions of children left behind are an increasing strain on overburdened grandparents and family members. Sometimes a family that refuses to take in an orphaned relative does so out of self preservation. The safety net is breaking and the most vulnerable are losing out on basic health care, nutrition, education and love.
AIDS is a global pandemic, and the impacts will continue to affect us all. Even now, decades of economic, education and medical development progress are unraveling as a result of the disease. No one can predict what the long term impacts of having a continent of AIDS orphans will be, however it is difficult to overstate the scope of the problem It is likely that the disease will produce a ‘lost generation’ across the continent, having a drastic impact at the household, national and international levels.
The Coast region is the poorest of Tanzania’s 25 regions and is no exception to the deteriorating social structure. Currently, there are no facilities in the 12,500 square mile region (population 900,000) that are equipped to care for infants and toddlers. If a baby is abandoned, orphaned or in need of temporary care, Social Services is forced to transfer her to an orphanage out of the region, leaving little hope that any remaining family or community members will ever reclaim the child.
*Source: UNICEF State of the Child Report 2001
For more information about the HIV/AIDS pandemic and other global issues impacting Sub-Saharan Africa, visit www.data.org. It gives a comprehensive overview of HIV/AIDS, Debt and Trade in Africa.
A copy of Tanzania’s Health Strategy for HIV/AIDS 2003-2006 is available on request.
How many deaths does it take til we know, that too many people have died? – Bob Dylan