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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Epidemic Creates African Orphan Crisis

DURBAN, South Africa -- Among the ravages AIDS has brought to Africa is a wave of orphanhood that will continue to grow for at least a generation, according to a U.S. government study to be released Thursday.

Ten years from now, one in seven children under 15 in black Africa will have lost a parent, according to the study by the Agency for International Development.

"We've never seen ? the chronic generation of orphans," said Paul De Lay, a physician and epidemiologist who heads the agency's AIDS program. "In the past, when orphans were created in large numbers, it tended to be from acute, short-term events, such as war, genocide or natural disaster."

A decade ago, 4 percent of sub-Saharan Africans under the age of 15 had lost their mothers or both parents. In about 20 percent of cases, AIDS was the reason.

This year, 6 percent of sub-Saharan children will fit that definition of "orphan," and AIDS will be the cause 47 percent of the time. By 2010, 8 percent of black African children f 21.8 million f will be orphans, with AIDS the reason in 70 percent of the cases.

If children who have lost just a father are counted, the total will reach 44 million, with AIDS again the main cause.

The report calls on the international community to begin work to respond to limit the disaster.

De Lay said the agency hopes that Africa will avoid widespread institutionalization of orphans. "Children in institutions tend not to do as well as children in families," he said. "And institutionalization tends to be self-perpetuating. [Orphanages] tend to generate themselves. We learned that from the experience in Ethiopia after famine in the 1970s."

Taking care of children in orphanages also is expensive f about $2,000 a year, an astronomical sum in sub-Saharan Africa. In many developing nations, governments can keep a child in some sort of kinship environment for about $100 a year. The money is used to supplement family food budgets, pay tuitions, buy school uniforms and subsidize other expenses that households find hard to meet when they take in extra children.

"What you're doing is basically creating a safety net, and it begins by identifying the families in need," De Lay said.

A relatively simple, cheap drug treatment that reduces the transmission of AIDS to babies at birth is proving increasingly valuable in protecting children, according to studies presented at the global AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.

While the drug, nevirapine, has reduced AIDS transmission when given to infected mothers and their newborns, many AIDS researchers have discounted its benefits, saying that any baby saved by the procedure still risked being infected by the mother's milk.

But most studies released at this week's conference show that a significant number of babies saved from infection at birth remain uninfected well into f o r through f their breast-feeding periods. With that observation, a scientific consensus is emerging here that mother-to-child f or "perinatal" f transmission can be reduced anywhere in the world for very little money.