Life expectancy drops below 40 in many African countries

Posted: 15 July 2004

The AIDS crisis has cut life expectancy in many African countries to less than 40 years, making it the biggest factor in the dramatic decline of overall human development indicators in the continent, according to the 2004 Human Development Index.

The grim statistics on declining human development trends in much of sub-Saharan Africa were disclosed in Bangkok at the XV International Conference on AIDS in July 2004.

Sub-Saharan Africa is home to just over ten per cent of the world's population - and to almost two-thirds of all people living with HIV.In 2003, an estimated three million people became newly infected, and 2.2 million died.

UNDP's 2004 Human Development Index shows that 13 sub-Saharan Africa countries have suffered dramatic reversals in human development since 1990, a decline largely attributable to the AIDS pandemic. In seven of these countries, the rising prevalence of HIV/AIDS since 1990 has driven life expectancy down below 40 years.

Life expectancy and HIV/AIDS data from selected sub-Saharan African countries, including Central African Republic, Lesotho, Mozambique, Swaziland, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe,shows that "AIDS is reversing the hard-won development gains of recent decades," said Elizabeth Lwanga, deputy director of the UNDP's Regional Bureau for Africa.

"We need an unprecedented and holistic response to this crisis, which is taking a devastating toll on our communities, and on the capacity of our public institutions."

In Swaziland and Lesotho, AIDS prevalence rates now exceed 30 per cent for the population between 15 and 49 years, the most affected group. In Botswana, infection rates for the same age group have climbed to 37 per cent. Zimbabwe's prevalence rate in that key population sector is 24.6 per cent. In Zambia, the rate is 16.5 percent.

Some countries in the region are also struggling with crisis or post-crisis situations, another debilitating obstacle to development.

The five countries with the lowest levels of human development in this year's global rankings are: Guinea-Bissau, Burundi, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Sierra Leone.

Sierra Leone, still recovering from a devastating civil war, has been ranked at the bottom of the global Human Development Index for seven straight years.