Zimbabwe: AIDS Kills One Child Every 20 Minutes, Says UN Children's Agency

In Zimbabwe, one child dies of AIDS and another is orphaned every 20 minutes; three infants are infected with HIV every hour, primarily from their mothers; and one in eight children will die before the age of five, compared to one in 13 children just 15 years ago, UNICEF said Wednesday. The agency is launching a bold campaign to improve the care, health, nutrition, and education of Zimbabwean children.

"Almost one in three children in Zimbabwe, 1.6 million, are now orphaned, having lost at least one parent, and this number is growing. HIV and AIDS have dramatically increased children's vulnerability in recent years," said UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman.

Yet despite the country's severe economic crisis, Zimbabwe continues to lead by example in caring for vulnerable children. More than 90 percent of orphans have been absorbed by extended families. Two in five households in the poorest rural areas took in orphans or vulnerable children, while less than half of these received any form of support or aid in the past year, said UNICEF.

The HIV/AIDS epidemic in Zimbabwe has reduced life expectancy to under age 40, compared to 69 following the country's independence in 1980. With inflation up to 913 percent last month, Zimbabwe has experienced collapsing health services and acute shortages of food, medicine, and gasoline. In that context, some people with AIDS may be nursed at home, and their deaths could go unrecorded.