LAVUMISA, Swaziland - Victim by victim, AIDS is steadily boring through the heart of this small town.
It killed the mayor's daughter. It has killed a fifth of the 60 employees of the town's biggest businessman. It has claimed an estimated one in eight teachers, several health workers and 2 of 10 counselors who teach prostitutes about protected sex. One of the 13 municipal workers has died of AIDS. Another is about to. A third is H.I.V.-positive.
By one hut-to-hut survey in 2003, one in four households on the town's poorer side lost someone to AIDS in the preceding year. One in three had a visibly ill member.
That is just the dead and the dying. There is also the world they leave behind. AIDS has turned one in 10 Lavumisans into an orphan. It has spawned street children, prostitutes and dropouts. It has thrust grandparents and sisters and aunts into the unwanted roles of substitutes for dead fathers and mothers. It has bred destitution, hunger and desperation among the living.
It has the appearance of a biblical cataclysm, a thousand-year flood of misery and death. In fact, it is all too ordinary. Tiny Lavumisa, population 2,000, is the template for a demographic plunge taking place in every corner of southern Africa.
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