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CARE Starts Programs for AIDS Survivors - 2002-03-09

Figures from the United Nations AIDS program show HIV-AIDS is having a far-reaching impact throughout the developing world. It not only affects families, but also business and social infrastructure. According to U.N. statistics, AIDS caused three-quarters of the deaths among police officers in Kenya during the past two years and two-thirds of the deaths of managers in Zambia. At least 13-million children have lost a parent to AIDS. That number could triple within the next decade, according to officials with the relief organization, CARE. The organization has started a series of programs to help the survivors.

The United Nations says an estimated 40-million people world-wide are living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and five-million were infected last year. Two-thirds of the new infections were in Africa.

CARE, which was formed to feed refugees in post-war Europe, is now involved in food distribution, development and emergency relief work world-wide. Organization officials say AIDS affects their work in all of these areas. Kristin Kalla, the newly appointed director of CARE's HIV-AIDS unit, says the disease is now a priority for her organization. "The emphasis will be on Africa, looking at the impact of the epidemic in terms of what it's done to children, and also the impact of HIV-AIDS on families and societies, which was really unexpected," she says.

The CARE official says the international community was not prepared for the social breakdown now underway in parts of Africa. "Oftentimes, children under the age of 15 are heading up households with their siblings," says Ms. Kalla. "We're seeing a lot of girls pulled out of school, girls between the ages of 11 and 15 who are taking care of the rest of their siblings. And so, this is also putting those children at risk for HIV. Why? Because they're at greater risk for malnourishment; they don't often have food in the house; they don't have an income; they're denied education."

U.N. figures show the average AIDS infection rate in sub-Saharan Africa is nearly nine percent of the adult population. Botswana is the country with the highest prevalence rate. Thirty-six percent of its adults are infected.

Ms. Kalla says other African countries are also at high risk. "Countries like Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, South Africa, where you have adult prevalence rates over 30 percent. Often the pregnant women are about 35 percent in terms of being HIV positive. Also in East Africa," she says.

CARE officials also worry about countries involved in recent conflicts and those subject to natural disasters, for example, Ethiopia, which has an HIV prevalence rate of 10 percent. That rate threatens to rise as the country goes through a series of famines and droughts, which place a strain on the social system.

CARE is working with faith-based groups and other non-governmental organizations to provide social and financial support for young people affected by the epidemic. It is promoting AIDS education, building support groups and offering micro-credit to help people start businesses.

Ms. Kalla says, in Rwanda, the organization is helping 85,000 households headed by children. "We've set up a mentoring program, where those children can choose a woman in the community to be a mentor, or surrogate mother, to teach them how to parent, to take care of the rest of the children," she says. "We're looking for ways now to provide education and health services to those child-headed households."

United Nations officials say, when a country's HIV rate reaches 15 percent, the country can expect a one-percent annual drop in gross domestic product. More serious, say the officials, the social fabric begins to unravel, which in turn increases the risk of infection with HIV.

Ms. Kalla says CARE is part of an international effort to break the cycle. She credits other organizations with achieving some progress, including the United Nations, and governments of countries, such as Senegal, which she says has kept its AIDS infection rate to four percent, because it is focusing on the problem.