16 January 2008

Namibia: Aids Takes Its Toll on Life Expectancy

Windhoek — Namibia might take between 13 and 37 years to reverse life expectancy levels to what the country had in the 1990s. Projections by the United Nations are that life expectancy in Namibia will reach the 1990 levels after 2045, while Namibia is more optimistic, putting its own projections at 2021.

This information is contained in a background paper in the Namibia Human Development Report, which was released in October last year. The paper is entitled Trends in Human Development and Human Poverty in Namibia. The speed of recovery will depend on the effectiveness of programmes to treat people with Aids and to prevent new infections. The paper said increased mortality associated with Aids has made it the leading cause of death in Namibia, thus leading to the sharp fall in life expectancy.

Life expectancy is one of the values needed to calculate the human development indicators of a country. Others include literacy rates, gross enrolment and per capita income. While the average income of Namibians improved from N$5448 during the 1991-1994 period to N$10358 in the 2001-2004 period and adult literacy increased from 76 to 84 percent, life expectancy decreased from 61 to 49 years.

This caused a decline in the HDI over the period from 0.607 and 0.557. The paper says while the components of the HDI improved, the negative impact of HIV/Aids was so strong that it more than offset the positive effects of improvements in the dimensions of human development, resulting in falling levels of human development contrary to Vision 2030 goals.

The paper says after independence, longevity was the strongest contributor to HDI, but in recent years, it has become the weakest. Figures indicate that the HDI of the Khomas and Erongo regions ranked among the highest among the 13 regions, while Kavango and Ohangwena ranked the lowest. The paper said rural areas performed worse than urban areas on all the three dimensions of human development.

Over time, HDI increased in five regions, namely Erongo, Karas, Otjozondjupa, Omaheke and Kunene. These also happen to be the regions with the lowest drop in life expectancy. Looking at language groups, life expectancy varies from 43 years among people of Caprivi and Rukavango languages, to 79 years among people who speak German. The Sestwana language group has the second highest life expectancy at 67 years followed by the English at 63 and Afrikaans at 62 years.

However, Namibia is not alone, as other African countries such as South Africa, Lesotho, Zambia and Swaziland are seeing the same pattern of long-term decline due to the fall in life expectancy attributable to the HIV/Aids pandemic.

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