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Aging and HIV key challenges over next 50 years
Sun Jul 24, 7:33 PM ET - AFP
Massive population growth in the poorest countries, global aging, and the battle against the AIDS virus, were key challenges for the international community over the next fifty years, according to an international conference which concluded here.
This month the world's population crossed the 6.5 billion mark. But the increase has slowed from a two percent annual rise in the 1960s to 1.2 percent today -- with the nine-billion-mark expected to be cracked around 2050.
Falling fertility rates in Europe, Latin America and Asia have contributed to this slowdown. In China, home to 1.3 billion people and a one-child policy, the number of children per woman has fallen to 1.7 from a peak of 7.5 in the 1960s.
However in Africa fertility rates remain high and populations are predicted to rise rapidly, tripling by 2050 in a number of countries including Burkina Faso, Burundi, Chad, Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia and Uganda.
Demographer John Cleland of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said that population increase could contribute more to deepening poverty than HIV infection in sub-Saharan Africa, where the population is predicted to rise from 750 million to 1.7 billion during this period.
In Europe and Asia falling birth rates and longer life expectancy are leading to an aging of the world's population.
According to UN figures, 20 percent of today's population in developed countries are over 60 and by 2050 that proportion is projected to rise to 32 percent.
"If nothing is done, the aging of the population will lead to a reduction in the workforce, a fall in economic growth and large shortages of labor," said Martine Durand, an economist with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
Raising the retirement age is one of a number of politically difficult policy options facing governments along with increased immigration, encouraging people to have more children and employment creation, as they try to counter the economic effects of having a shrinking workforce and growing number of retirees.
Durand said governments in developed countries are already taking measures to delay retirement. Italy, Finland, Spain, Norway and France have already restricted the possibility of early retirement while Austria, Switzerland and Belgium have raised the legal age of retirement.
Due to falling fertility rates, immigration will continue to play an important role for a number of countries, particularly in Europe, over the next 25 years.
"Without immigration a number of European countries would experience a substantial fall in their populations," said Serge Feld of the University of Liege in Belgium.
Only Finland and France will be increasing their populations largely from natural population growth.
Increasing life expectancy is the other driver in the aging process with people in rich countries expected to live to an average of 82 years by 2050 compared to 76 years today, according to UN figures.
In the 50 least developed countries average lifespan is also expected to rise from 51 to 67, a figure which is conditional on the implementation of government programmes to treat HIV-infected people and stop the spread of the virus.
Life expectancy in southern Africa, which has the highest HIV infection rate in the world, has fallen from 62 years in 1990-95 to 48 years in 2000-2005. It is set to drop further -- to 43 years over the next decade -- before a slow recovery starts.
Some three million people died of AIDS related illnesses in 2004 while five million people became infected -- taking the global total to 40 million.
The two countries with the largest populations, China and India, are now on the frontline in the battle against the spread of HIV.
Vinod Mishra of the research company Demographic and Health Surveys said that in China the disease has broken out of the high-risk groups of injecting drug users and sex workers and is spreading through the general population.
China's massive urban migration, which has risen from 11 million in 1982 to 79 million in 2000, may be "the 'tipping point' in China's battle with the AIDS epidemic," according to Xiushi Yang of the Old Dominion University.
China has 840,000 HIV infected people or 0.1 percent of the population, although this likely to be an underestimate.
India has 5.1 million people infected with HIV representing 0.9 percent of the population, ranking second behind South Africa with 5.3 million in absolute numbers.