Life expectancy at birth is one of the key measures that policy-makers look at to assess human development. Because of the extra deaths from AIDS in children and young adults, this indicator is giving off alarm signals. According to a just-released report prepared by the United Nations Population Division in collaboration with UNAIDS and WHO, the epidemic will wipe out precious development gains by slashing life expectancy.
The impact on life expectancy is proportional to the severity of the local epidemic. In Botswana, for example, where more than 25% of adults are infected, children born early next decade can expect to live just past their 40 th birthday. Had AIDS not been in the picture, they could have expected to live to the age of 70. Not surprisingly, between 1996 and 1997 Botswana dropped 26 places down the Human Development Index, a ranking of countries that takes into account wealth, literacy and life expectancy.
Taking the nine countries with an adult HIV prevalence of 10% or more (Botswana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe), calculations show that AIDS will on average cost them 17 years of life expectancy. Instead of rising and reaching 64 years by 2010-2015, a gain which would be expected in the absence of AIDS, life expectancy will regress on average to 47 years.