HIV/AIDS has profound socio-economic impacts. Let’s look at Uganda. It is estimated that there are currently over a million people infected with the virus in Uganda, with nearly one million deaths to date. Indeed, HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death among the population aged 15-45, and 80% of infections in Uganda are amongst this group. This is the most economically active section in any country’s population. It has had dire consequences for business and wealth creating opportunities in the country through reduced work rates, reduced income and livelihood uncertainty.
But the disease has not only impacted on the economic face of the country, it has also transformed the social and human fabric of Uganda. Life expectancy has fallen from 48 years in 1990, to 38 years in 1997, and an enormous burden has been placed on the very young and old. There are over a million orphans and an enormous rise in the number of grandparent and child headed households.
At the human level, sufferers have to contend with the devastating news of infection and the inevitable foreshortening of their lives. Many have the additional worry as to the HIV status of their partner and children. Families have to care for the sick person, and when death occurs, widows, widowers and orphans are left to pick-up the pieces of their shattered lives.
The impact upon children is particularly devastating. Many children are forced to quit school to care for younger siblings and work to supplement the family income. Traditionally, the extended family would have assumed the care of orphaned children, together with the assistance of the community. But the high mortality rate through AIDS has outstripped this traditional coping mechanism resulting in large numbers of children being institutionalised in orphanages. Teenage girls have no choice but to marry early for economic security. So what can be done to address this problem in developing countries?