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20 million African orphans by 2010, courtesy AIDS

By 2010 the number of children under the age of 15 in sub-Saharan Africa who will have lost at least one parent to the disease is set to almost double to 20 million from 11 million at the end of 2001.

india Updated: Dec 13, 2003 12:57 IST

Twelve-year-old Tewodros nearly lost a leg in a car accident while selling tissues on the streets of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to support his younger sister after the pair were left orphaned by AIDS, according to the UN Children's Fund.

And they are not alone. By 2010 the number of children under the age of 15 in sub-Saharan Africa who will have lost at least one parent to the disease is set to almost double to 20 million from 11 million at the end of 2001, UNICEF predicted in a report.

This would bring the total number of orphans in the region to more than 40 million, and would hit Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland - where the parents of one in five children will die from AIDS - the hardest, the agency warned.
But the worsening crisis could be avoided if African governments and the international community act quickly to provide better financial, medical and social support to the families and communities affected, it said.

Free education, safer ways to earn a living, and financial assistance "can mean that many orphans who might otherwise be separated from their families are able to remain with them," said UNICEF executive director Carol Bellamy.

"The future of Africa depends on it," she declared in a statement presenting the 52-page UNICEF study - "Africa's Orphan Crisis: Worst is Yet to Come". The report was released the day after two other United Nations agencies warned that Africa has entered a phase of upward-spiralling mortality from AIDS that underlines the urgent need for cheaper life-prolonging anti-HIV drugs.

Two-thirds of AIDS fatalities and new HIV infections around the world this year will be in Africa, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNAIDS said.

In Ethiopia - home to the continent's second largest orphan population - Tewodros described how he left school to earn money when his mother and father fell ill with AIDS, adding that the local community forced him and his sister out of their home after both parents passed away two years ago. "In the nights they would throw stones," he told UNICEF.

First Published: Nov 30, 2003 19:18 IST