Warning over high toll of AIDS orphans

A quarter of children in Ethiopia could be orphaned by the HIV/AIDS virus within eight years, experts warned on Friday.

The warning came during a conference on HIV/AIDS in Addis Ababa, where it was also revealed that 2.2 million Africans are dying of the virus each year.

Alan Whiteside, head of the Health Economics and HIV/AIDS Research Division at Natal University in South Africa, said the clock was ticking for at least a dozen African countries.

Whiteside also warned that the virus would become the single biggest catastrophe to hit the continent this century.

He added that while some 30 million people are currently infected by the virus, efforts to combat the disease have been late, slow and inadequate.

Whiteside said that by 2010 some 15 to 25 percent of children in 12 countries – including Ethiopia - could be orphaned.

Alex de Waal, a senior adviser to the United Nations Children’s Fund and the UN’s Economic Commission for Africa, echoed his comments.

He pointed out that the AIDS crisis worsened current food shortages, increased dependency and placed a huge burden on surviving family members.

The experts were speaking ahead of a conference on governance and HIV/AIDS to be held in Addis Ababa later this month.