Death in debt's shadow;Briefing;International

18th June 1999 at 01:00

The spread of HIV and Aids in Tanzania has reached pandemic proportions, health officials say. Young people are particularly at risk as poverty and lack of education is forcing them on to the streets.

According to the World Health Organisation, 1.4million people are infected with HIV, around half of all hospital admissions are Aids related and 730,000 children have been orphaned as a result of the disease. Girls are nearly twice as at risk of infection as young men and there are about 800 child prostitutes working in Tanzania.

In the Ferry harbour area of Dar es Salaam, teenagers with little or no education live in the rusting hulls of cargo boats. They are surrounded by piles of rubbish and some have fibreglass wadding for beds. They work as prostitutes and look tired and weak, older than their years.

Do the figures worry them? "Yes, we feel frightened but what can we do?" one of them told us. Do they know anyone with HIV or Aids? "Yes, but they try to hide it, they are frightened they will be shunned, that no one will help. They don't know where to go or what to do, so they keep quiet."

Asked why they do this job, they reply: "We don't have any money. We don't have anywhere to go."

Some nights they earn nothing at all. They say there's no alternative because they don't have the knowledge or skills for other jobs.

One expert on Aids said the crippling level of national debt repayment is fuelling the disease's spread. Professor Paul Biswalo, an educational psychologist at the University of Dar es Salaam, said: "We have so little and even that has to go on paying off debt to the IMF. We don't have the ability to test for HIV and Aids. We cannot afford good nutrition or medication and as a result, the disease is increasing at an horrific rate."

Tanzania spends less on health and education combined than on debt repayment, with 43 per cent of all taxes going to the IMF and World Bank. Less than pound;2 is spent on health per head each year.

The girls in the harbour think more could be done. "The government should be begging the world to relieve debt," said one.

Children's Express is a programme of learning through journalism for children aged eight to 18. This article is part of a project to look at the impact of Third World debt from the perspective of those it most affects. The findings will be presented to the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, later in the year. Juanita Rosenior, 15, attends Greycoats Hospital school, London, and Amina Kibria, 17, attends Kingsway College, London

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