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Friday, December 1, 2006
Head in the sand

A recent article claimed there would be ‘no major effect on the economy’ from the AIDS pandemic. According to the study commissioned by the Joint Economic AIDS and Poverty Programme, while business was obviously concerned, it was ranked ninth below ‘more important’ issues such as demand for product, the costs of material and labour, skills shortages, crime and taxes.

However, if you think about it, most of those items and affected by AIDS, so it did not seem to be a well-reasoned article. Indeed, any comment that remotely hints that AIDS is not significant is very dangerous.
In reality, the disease is having, and will continue to have, a devastating effect on our country. According to the latest statistics 1 000 people a day are dying of the disease. There are now 5.5 million people living with HIV – the condition that inevitably leads to full-blown AIDS. Almost one in five people in the age group 15 years to 49 years has contracted HIV. Average life expectancy in South Africa (all mortality rates) is down to 47 years for men, and 49 years for women.
In addition, as if the xenophobia of the Department of Home Affairs was not enough to stem the immigration of skilled people, the AIDS pandemic is harvesting the skills we already have here into an early grave. For example, it was found almost 13% of those teachers who took part in an HIV testing programme proved positive. And the disease is significantly contributing to the 21 000 odd who are leaving the profession each year. 
There are almost 320 000 orphans under the age of 14 left in the wake of AIDS deaths so far. Their numbers are increasing at about 24% a year, according to the General Household Survey 2004 and Census 2001. Moreover, while AIDS has destroyed their immediate family, do not forget that politics has already destroyed their extended families; there are no grandparents to step in and help, largely a remnant of the divide-and-rule of Apartheid. The community and government have abandoned these children.
I first wrote about AIDS in 1984 when I was at the Financial Mail, based on extensive research by Swiss Re at the time. Later it was the subject of a cover story in Insurance Times & Investments (October 1988), where we carried extensive information and comment on the subject. There was no question at the time that the disease would spread rapidly, exponentially and have devastating consequences for the economy.
Nothing said since, nothing done since, has in any way altered that dreadful scenario.
And another issue that has, to my knowledge, never been mentioned in connection with the disease concerns vectors (organisms, including people, that transmit infections). Have you noticed an alarming increase in the numbers of people off sick with soar throats, colds, flu and various other tiresome ailments?
They don’t have AIDS. My guess is that with so many people wandering around with HIV they are also carrying a myriad of opportunistic infections through protozoa, bacteria and viruses (like the common cold). Schools, shopping malls and the work-place are rich hunting grounds for these irritants so more people are getting sick. This reduces productivity and pushes up costs in the work-place and reduces learning time in schools. By Nigel Benetton

Copyright © Insurance Times and Investments® Vol:19.6 1st December, 2006
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