JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — South Africa's population would be 4.4 million larger than it is today if not for the HIV/AIDS epidemic, new research has found.
South Africa's population is 50.6 million, but without AIDS-related deaths, it would have been 55 million. By 2040 the population would have reached 77.5 million — a whopping 24 million people more than is currently projected, according to a study by the South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR).
South Africa has more people living with HIV/AIDS than any other country; an estimated 5.7 million South Africans are infected with the disease.
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SAIRR data shows that 31 percent of all deaths in 2011 were AIDS-related. This will rise to 33 percent by 2015, and 121 percent by 2025, according to the projection.
The data used in the study comes from the Actuarial Society of South Africa and the country's Institute for Futures Research.
"Not only does HIV/AIDS reduce life expectancy and increase mortality, but it is largely responsible for wider social ills such as orphanhood and child-headed households," Thuthukani Ndebele, a researcher at the institute, said in a statement.
The UN's program on HIV and AIDS announced in November that globally, AIDS-related deaths are down 21 percent from their peak in 2005. The number of new HIV infections is also down 21 percent from its peak in 1997.
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But less than a week later, The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria announced cutbacks to grants because of a dramatic shortfall in funding, blamed on the economic crisis in Europe.
The group Medecins Sans Frontieres warned that cutbacks could halt progress in fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic in countries hardest hit.
"The dramatic resource shortfall comes at a time when the latest HIV science shows that HIV treatment itself not only saves lives, but is also a critical form of preventing the spread of the virus, and governments are making overtures that there could be an end to the AIDS epidemic," MSF said at the time.
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