United Nations Holds Meeting in South Africa to Determine How to Fight Interrelated Problems of Food Shortage, HIV/AIDS
The United Nations yesterday began a two-day conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, to discuss the relationship between Africa's severe food shortages and the HIV/AIDS pandemic, Xinhua News Agency reports. More than 50 people, including U.N. delegates and representatives from local and international non-governmental agencies, are scheduled to meet at the conference, which is co-sponsored by UNAIDS and the U.N. Regional Interagency Coordination Support Office, to try to find new ways to combat both problems. According to Xinhua News, agricultural productivity in the region has declined in part because the number of HIV-positive adults who are too sick to work is increasing, "contribut[ing] directly" to the food crises in Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia, Lesotho, Mozambique and Swaziland. Nearly 10% of Zimbabwe's agricultural work force has been lost due to HIV/AIDS (Xinhua News Agency, 11/5). In addition, families are spending money that could be spent on food on HIV/AIDS medications and funeral costs for family members who have died as a result of AIDS-related causes (Sallot, Toronto Globe and Mail, 11/5). The food shortages are also worsening the HIV/AIDS epidemic. In the face of the food shortages, some women are putting themselves at high risk of contracting HIV by trading sex for food. Judith Lewis, regional coordinator for the U.N. Special Envoy for Humanitarian Needs in Southern Africa, said, "This food crisis is like no other. The high prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the region means we're feeding many people who are already caught up in the wide AIDS emergency and whose defenses have been weakened. This food crisis will only increase their suffering and make it even harder for them to survive" (Xinhua News Agency, 11/5).
Improving Quality of Food Aid
Conference attendees will also work to determine how to make the food distributed by the World Food Programme more nutritious in order to meet the needs of HIV-positive people. According to UNAIDS, HIV-positive people need more food, including 50% more protein, than other people. Bunmi Makinwa, UNAIDS team leader for Eastern and Southern Africa, said, "People across the region keep saying to us that food is the first and best drug against HIV/AIDS. So we need to decide how best to use and target food aid to help families affected by HIV/AIDS. But we also need to reassess our whole approach to HIV/AIDS and this humanitarian crisis." Approximately 14.4 million people in Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia, Lesotho, Mozambique and Swaziland could die of starvation in the next few months, according to Agence France-Presse (Agence France-Presse, 11/6). James Morris, WFP executive director, said that nearly 80% of the necessary funds for food aid have already been donated or pledged to WFP but that donations are "lag[ging]" for "badly needed" medications, public health infrastructure and other projects (Toronto Globe and Mail, 11/5).