MAPUTO More than one-sixth of Mozambique's 9,000 teachers are dying of HIV/AIDS each year, lowering the quality of education and jeopardizing future development, a government official told Reuters on Tuesday.
Education and Culture Minister Aires Aly said in an interview that the pandemic had become a national emergency, eroding a critical human resource that is key to the poor southern African nation's economic development.
"We are losing 17 percent of our 9,000 teachers each year, which means we are talking of 1,360 workers lost to HIV/AIDS, and the disease is spreading very fast at national level", he said.
Health officials say more than 16 percent of the 20 million Mozambicans between the ages of 14 and 49 -- generally the most economically productive -- are infected with HIV, and an estimated 500 new infections occur each day.
"This is a crucial issue for us and we are trying to train more teachers for them to be able to deal with it (the pandemic) in the communities. Teachers play a major role in the economic development of this country", he said.
Despite its limited skilled labor force, Mozambique's economy has boomed in recent years, spurred by a rise in foreign investment and development aid, and GDP growth is projected to hit 8 percent this year after reaching 7.5 percent in 2007.
Aly said the devastating effect of HIV/AIDS on the country's human resources threatened to damage its economic prospects.
Mozambique, still one of the world's poorest nations, is struggling to raise the $150 million a year it needs to rebuild its dilapidated education infrastructure, neglected during the 17-year post-independence civil war that ended in 1992.
Very few of those needing anti-retroviral drugs in the former Portuguese colony have access to the life-saving treatment, though there are plans to set up a factory to produce the drugs in Mozambique.
(Editing by Muchena Zigomo and Tim Pearce)