Sub-Saharan Africa is the region of the world that is most affected by HIV/AIDS. The United Nations reports that an estimated 25.4 million people are living with HIV and that approximately 3.1 million new infections occurred in 2004. To put these figures in context, more than 60 percent of the people living with the infection reside in Africa. Even these staggering figures do not quite capture the true extent and impact that this disease causes on the continent. In 1998, about 200,000 Africans died as a result of various wars taking place on the continent. In that same year, more than 2 million succumbed to HIV/AIDS (Botchwey, 2000). The pandemic can be likened very much to the Bubonic Plague of the fourteenth century in terms of its killing ability. Both the Black Death and HIV/AIDS have wiped out a large proportion of the affected population. Until the AIDS pandemic, the world had not experienced a mass shrinking in their populations since the Black Death.
However, unlike the Black Death, the pandemic has become much more than a health problem as it encompasses economic, social, political, psychological and cultural dimensions. (Arndt and Lewis, 2000) HIV/AIDS is so severe that it sends ripples to the edges of society, spreading its effects on families through communities to countries as a whole. Due to the fact that the pandemic is widespread in young and middle-aged adults the epidemic destroys the very core and nucleus of society as well as the foundation of the nation’s economy. The pandemic is not a disease for adults only as in 2005 alone, an estimated 2.3 million children globally were living with HIV (UNAIDS 2005). Hence, HIV/AIDS rids the continent of what is arguably its most important resource; human capital. This is especially true in locations exposed to rampant HIV prevalence rates. In such regions, the economic growth of the country is affected which makes the provision of highly needed social services more difficult. We realize that countries find themselves in this sadistic cycle, as by aggravating the already poor conditions individuals become more susceptible to the spread of HIV.
The impact of AIDS may be felt as an immediate shock, as when a family loses a breadwinner, or in the case of a firm, an important employer leaves. However, at the national level the impact is felt as the gradual accrual of losses. The toll of HIV/AIDS on households can be very severe. Many families lose their bread winners. Many of those dying have surviving partners who are themselves infected and are in need of care. They leave behind children grieving and struggling to survive without the care of the parents. The disease strips the family assets further impoverishing the poor. In many cases, the presence of AIDS means that the household eventually dissolves, as the parents die and children are sent to relatives for care and upbringing. The gravity of the impact depends not only on the numbers infected and directly affected by the pandemic, but also on the resources available to manage the situation. This may be resources accessible at family, community or national level.
The pandemic also has dire impacts on the demographics of a country. This impact is usually more difficult to assess as it is largely dependent on data from birth and death certificates, and health records, all of which are poor or almost non-existent in that part of the world. Due to this, life expectancy at birth has fallen, dramatically, and the population structure has changed shape eroding years of progress made by many African countries. This obviously has implications for growth. (World Bank, 2000) Despite its serious implications, however, original research on the impact of AIDS is scarce. The purpose of this research is to analyze the effects of the HIV/AIDS epidemic on the level of human capital in Sub-Saharan Africa. The basic question surrounding this study is “Does HIV/AIDS have a negative impact on human capital accumulation”.
We believe that it does have a negative impact on human capital accumulation as resources, effort, and time are diverted to attend to the various issues associated with the pandemic. In an attempt to answer this question, the study will specify human capital as primary school enrollment. We do this because this is the level of schooling at which an individual receives basic education. Basic education is the formal education deemed necessary for somebody to function properly in society. Development economists have regarded basic education as a priority for developing countries the benefits of which include reduction of disease through knowledge of hygiene and nutrition and better understanding of non-violent ways to solve problems.
In this light, many African countries have implemented free universal basic education programs that aim at encouraging households to enroll their children in school. This is the primary way in which the impact of the pandemic may be offset. This is just one of the many dynamics of the issue of the HIV/AIDS and human capital.