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AIDS and population reduction : Little link


October 24, 1993

AIDS and population reduction : Little link

By Ashali Varma

The head of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has warned that to say that AIDS will increase mortality and reduce overall population growth is “dangerous, irresponsible and deeply cynical. The official, Dr. Nafis Sadik, said that such speculation “shows both a lack of knowledge about family planning programs and the effect of AIDS on a population.” The HIV virus infects more than 14 million people worldwide, according to a new report by the World Health Organization.

Dr. Sadik spoke at a special Roundtable in Berlin earlier this month The meeting was organized by the German Foundation for International Development, and officials from around the world discussed critical issues involving AIDS and the major effect it will have on some cities and regions, on young adults who contribute to the economy, infants and children, and key occupational groups. Countries with already stretched resources will bear the brunt of the disease and have to cope with costly health care and economic and social disruption, the participants said.

But they also said that the AIDS pandemic will have no major impact on population growth. No country will experience a negative population growth because of AIDS. For a country to reach zero-population growth would mean that almost half of its inhabitants would have to be infected.

Dr. Sadik said: “It is paramount to remember that we are talking about human lives, not numbers. The real damage that AIDS will do will be to societies and this in turn will have global economic consequences AIDS kills workers and providers; mothers and fathers of young children, the sons and daughters of elderly parents; those who are  educated and trained; and those who are responsible for education and training in their turn.”

Jyoti Shankar Singh, UNFPA’s Director of Technical and Evaluation-and Executive Coordinator of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development said: “In discussing these issues we should constantly remind ourselves of the needs of individual women and men; of the importance of reproductive choice and reproductive rights; of  the need to empower women to better protect themselves against threats to their reproductive and sexual health; of the special needs of adolescents which have so far not received much attention.”

Dr. Michael Merson, executive director of WHO’s Global Program on AIDS, said that his

organization estimated that almost half of the newly infected adults were women. In 1993

alone more than one million women will be infected and by the year 2000 more than 13 million women will be infected.

“Lack of education, poor income-generating capability and low socioeconomic status, contribute to, and are reinforced by poor reproductive outcomes,” Dr. Merson said. “The very same factors contribute to women’s vulnerability to HIV infection.”

Among the recommendations made at the meeting were that wherever possible family planning programs should be integrated with HIV prevention programs since there is a logical connection among the goals and approaches of these services.

Both programs target the sexually active population, promote responsible sex, distribute condoms and educate and inform the most vulnerable sections of society.  Incorporating AIDS prevention into family planning services can help countries do more with limited resources, Roundtable participants said.

Dr Sadik said the best weapon against the spread of AIDS is, “information and education programs that combat ignorance and help change behavior,” She added: “Family planning programs are the natural framework for this because, in addition to education and information, they provide condoms and counseling.”