Children are losing parents to AIDS at a frightening rate, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, but also in Asia and Latin America, says a report out Wednesday.

The report, "Children on the Brink," says the explosion of orphans in these regions is worsening a global orphan crisis and producing a growing pool of street children, school-age prostitutes and potential child warriors.

"This is without a doubt one of the most shocking reports that has been released at this conference," Peter Piot, director of the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, told the 14th International Conference on AIDS here.

A second report, released Wednesday by the Swiss Association Francois-Xavier Bagnoud, defined orphans more broadly - and put the projected 2010 total at 100 million.

"Even if we were to stop the spread of AIDS today, the number of orphans would continue to grow for a decade," says Anne Peterson of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). That's because many parents infected today would take at least a decade to die.

Piot says treating adults would help by enabling them to live longer and care for their children. Columbia University and a consortium of foundations said they have launched a $50 million program to offer lifelong care to more than 10,000 infected women, children and other family members at 40 sites in eight African countries. The pilot effort is too limited now to have much of an impact on the orphan crisis.

"We've got to start somewhere," Piot said.

Orphanages are not the answer, experts say, because they are expensive - a 1992 World Bank report put the cost at $1,000 per year per child - and because they would be swamped. Even if the affected countries could afford to build one 100-child orphanage a day for the next 20 years, they would be able to care only for today's orphans, leaving millions in need, experts say.

Most orphans must be cared for by their extended families or communities.

Report highlights:

  • In sub-Saharan Africa, an estimated 11 million children have lost one or both parents to AIDS, a figure that will grow to 20 million in eight years.
  • In Asia, 1.8 million children have lost parents to AIDS. Due to Asia's vast population and the rapid spread of AIDS, that number is expected to reach 4.3 million by 2010. The orphan population in Asia is surely higher, experts say, because no reliable figures are available for India. There, an estimated 4 million people are infected with the AIDS virus.
  • In Latin America, about 578,000 children have lost one or both parents to AIDS, a figure that will grow to 898,000 by 2010.


--Steve Sternberg, USA TODAY [July 10, 2002]