Millions of Africans Affected by Twin Epidemics of AIDS, Hunger, Experts Tell Senate Committee
The twin epidemics of AIDS and hunger have "trapped" millions of Africans in a cycle of sickness and death, according to experts who testified on Tuesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the AP/Philadelphia Inquirer reports (Dreyfus, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/11). James Morris, head of the World Food Programme, told the committee that seven million African farm workers have died of AIDS-related illnesses since 1985, according to the Indianapolis Star. "The crisis of HIV, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, is the most extraordinary humanitarian crisis in the world today," Morris said, adding, "AIDS has become the sinister element in hunger." Committee Chair Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) said that many people are unaware of how AIDS and hunger "exacerbate each other," according to the Star. For example, when young farm workers die of AIDS-related illnesses, a greater burden is placed on children and the elderly to produce food. In addition, when people migrate in search of food, the chances that HIV might be introduced into a new population increase. Women also are at an increased risk of becoming HIV-positive when they engage in commercial sex work to pay for food. "Ending AIDS is not a battle we will win with medicine alone," Morris said, adding, "We need integrated packages of assistance" (Groppe, Indianapolis Star, 5/12). Morris said that Congress should consider a "full package of assistance" -- including food, water, medicine and shelter -- to Africans affected by the epidemics, according to the AP/Inquirer. Morris added that the United States also should support extending school feeding programs to all schools in communities affected by the epidemic (AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/11).
Ambassador Randall Tobias, head of the State Department Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator, told the committee that providing antiretroviral drugs is "not the biggest challenge right now" in combating HIV/AIDS in Africa, according to the Star. Some committee members had expressed concern that the Bush administration is putting the interests of pharmaceutical companies ahead of treating HIV/AIDS patients by not approving generic fixed-dose combination antiretrovirals in Africa, according to the Star. Tobias said that the biggest challenge in combating the disease is finding doctors to administer the drugs. "The problem is not the availability and the price of drugs," Tobias said, adding, "It's getting people to deliver the treatment" (Indianapolis Star, 5/12).