Nkosi Is Dying of Aids. There Are 25million More Just like Him in Africa; Continent's Population Ravaged by the Biggest Killer Disease in History

Article excerpt

AT the tender age of 11, Nkosi Johnson is the human face of southern Africa's Aids apocalypse.

Abandoned by his family at the age of three, he was left to fend for himself on the streets, begging and scavenging for small morsels of food.

His parents took him to a nearby town and left him to die because they were scared of being ostracised by neighbours who fear the virus.

He appeared before 2000 guests during the opening ceremony of the world's biggest-ever Aids conference.

Around 10,000 scientists, doctors, charity chiefs and ministers descended on the city of Durban in South Africa, where Aids was described as the "most serious disease threat in recorded human history".

Nkosi's story reflected the suffering of child victims around the world - not only those who have the virus, but the 13.2 million who have been left orphans by it.

In Africa, they are left to walk the streets with begging bowls in the hope that motorists will stop and give them money to buy food.

The young beggars have become a familiar sight in a continent where a child is infected every 10 seconds.

The scale of the Aids epidemic is comparable to the Black Death in Europe in the 14th century.

Populations of some Aids-stricken African countries are expected to plunge as life expectancy falls to 30 by the end of the decade.

Experts estimate 25 million Africans are already infected with HIV and Aids and - with standards of medical care much poorer than in the West - most of them will die within the next eight years.

In Botswana, the worst-hit country, more than one-third of all adults are infected.

Botswana's President Festus Mogae admits: "We really are in a national crisis.

"We are threatened with extinction."

The figures are the latest attempt by demographers to grasp the devastation of the epidemic which has swept across southern Africa with astounding speed.

As the 13th annual conference on Aids opened yesterday, experts revealed 30,000 adults in the UK are infected with HIV.

But speakers struggled for words to describe the scope of the disease in the poorest parts of the globe.

More than 34 million people have Aids or HIV. Almost four million children have died since the start of the epidemic.

By the year 2003, the populations of Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe will start to fall because of Aids deaths and dropping fertility levels.

In those countries, the population will drop between one-tenth and three-tenths of one per cent. Without Aids, they would have grown between one per cent and three per cent.

Karen Stanecki, of the US Census Bureau, which compiled the figures, told yesterday's conference: "By 2010, life expectancy will be 29 in Botswana, 30 in Swaziland and 33 in Namibia and Zimbabwe.

"These are levels which have not been seen since the start of the 20th century. …