Lawrence Mthombeni, the principal of a primary school outside the small farming town of Mtubatuba on South Africa's eastern coast, knew that something was wrong with one of his best teachers. He watched her struggle to keep teaching science despite a variety of illnesses. Finally, one day last year, she left the school for good, and students soon were whispering that she was bewitched. It was only months later that Mthombeni learned the sad truth: She died from AIDS.

AIDS is killing Africa's teachers Vand with them the continent's hopes that education will bring a more prosperous future. The statistics, though spotty, are shocking: By some estimates, as many as a third of teachers in South Africa may be HIV positive, a higher infection rate than in the general population. In Zambia, 2 teachers are dying for every 1 that graduates from training school. And in Swaziland, the AIDS toll already has reduced teacher-to-student ratios to levels not seen since the 1970 s. Teachers, of course, are not the only victims of the growing HIV plague that infected 4 million Africans last year alone. But the loss of teachers reaches beyond personal tragedy because of their crucial role in shaping Africa's next generation.

"Teachers who fall sick will not all be replaced, and you can never replicate a week or a term of teaching in the life of a child,' says Alan Whiteside, a leading AIDS researcher at the University of Natal in Durban. "We face a generation growing up that is disaffected, unskilled, and de socialized because of AIDS.'.