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HIV/AIDS: A deadly crisis each day in Zimbabwe

© UNICEF Zimbabwe/2005/Elder
’Granny’ Sarah and the orphans at a UNICEF-supported day care centre.

By James Elder

BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe, 24 March 2005 – In a small corroded tin shack, 71-year-old Emma Mlavzi lives with her 10 grandchildren. Their parents, Emma’s children, are all dead – a family destroyed by AIDS.

The children show signs of malnutrition. Emma suspects that three of them may be HIV-positive, infected by their mothers at birth. Emma’s task – caring for and raising 10 grandchildren - is an impossible one, and she is not alone. The same scene is being repeated all across Zimbabwe today.

Since 1990, HIV/AIDS has slashed the average life expectancy in Zimbabwe from 61 to 33 years (2003; source: SOWC, Excel format), and there are now 1 million children in Zimbabwe who have been orphaned due to AIDS-related deaths. In other words, one in five Zimbabwean children is an orphan as a result of the HIV/AIDS crisis.

From one day to the next Emma does not know how she is going to feed, clothe or school her grandchildren. “I do my best for these children,” she says as she cooks from a pot that would normally feed two. “But it is too much for me. How can I ensure these children go to school? How can I ensure they stay healthy?”

Like many others in Zimbabwe affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic, Emma receives almost no help. With a virtual freeze on major international funds, the resources of UN agencies and non-governmental organizations have been seriously stretched in their efforts to provide assistance for the ever-growing number of orphans.

© UNICEF Zimbabwe/2005/Elder
Emma’s orphaned grandchildren play outside the two-room shack they all share.

UNICEF-supported project helps ease the burden

Over the past five years, international pressure against the government of President Mugabe has soared. One of the results has been greatly reduced donor funds for Zimbabwe. In the rest of southern Africa – the area most devastated by HIV/AIDS – the average annual donor-spending-per-HIV-positive-person by the three main HIV/AIDS donor initiatives is $74. In Zimbabwe the donor spending for each HIV-positive person is just $4 annually.

In response to these numbers, UNICEF’s Executive Director Carol Bellamy said: “The world must differentiate between the politics and the people of Zimbabwe. The global generosity towards tsunami victims was inspiring, but it has dried up for Zimbabwean children who are facing a deadly crisis every day of their lives.”

And yet despite the dearth in funds, some progress is being made.

At a UNICEF-supported project not far from Emma’s shack, each day orphaned school-age children drop off their pre-school siblings at a makeshift daycare centre. Here they are looked after by Sarah, another volunteer grandmother.

“We are very lucky to have Granny Sarah,” says Kristy, an orphan whose younger siblings have benefited from the centre for the past four years. “I’ve had to be like a mum to these boys, but because of her I can still go to school.”




31 March 2005:
Sarah Crowe reports on the many challenges faced by Zimbabwe’s HIV/AIDS orphans

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