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AIDS SILENCE
A lost generation

Although the price of triple therapies is falling and the number of people in the North that die from AIDS is decreasing, Malawi remains one of the places most affected by the epidemic.In this country of 11.2 million people (2002) located in the south of Tanzania, attempts at prevention are being thwarted by the veil of silence that surrounds the sex taboo. An entire generation has been decimated by the catastrophe.

In southern Malawi, one out of three ”sexually active” people is HIV-positive. Many of them are either unaware or don’t want to know. 80% of hospital admissions are AIDS-related, and 8 to 9 out of ten cases of tuberculosis are connected to the epidemic. Yet, people here prefer to believe it is malaria or tuberculosis which is responsible for the high mortality rate, not AIDS.

The generation that was hit full-force by the disease has left children behind who are left to the care of grandparents who have neither the strength nor the means to raise them. According to estimates, there are 700,000 orphans in the country. As they cannot afford clothes to go to school, these children do not have access to education. They take to the street where they carry out domestic jobs to bring a few kouachas (the local currency) home to what remains of their family. Breadwinners… at the age of 10.

Rates of prostitution and theft are soaring as the only means to survive. An entire generation becomes vulnerable. Currently, one pregnant woman out of three is HIV-positive. One child out of four does not live beyond the age of five, and one out of three will become an orphan… At this rate, the population of Malawi will have decreased by 15% in four years time. As one of the first countries to be hit by the AIDS virus, Uganda tried to control this epidemic rather quickly. But social stigma and taboo have pushed those who are ill into hiding. Official policy advocates abstinence. As a result, AIDS widows prefer to abandon their children rather than to risk not being able to remarry. Uganda has over 2 million orphans, but there is still no sign of treatment for them.

In Malawi and Uganda, the social consequences of the epidemic are already being felt. Beyond the fact that children have no access to education, teachers die before they complete their training. As the generation that bore these children disappears, the children are deprived of a stable environment, a family, an education and a future.

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A lost generation”

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