FAO and UNAIDS: Working together to fight AIDS

FAO has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) that will strengthen cooperation between the two organizations in the fight against the AIDS epidemic. "The agreement represents an important recognition of the work FAO has done and is continuing to do towards raising awareness of the AIDS epidemic as a development issue," said Jacques du Guerny, chief of the FAO Sustainable Development Department's Population Programme Service and focal point on AIDS.

Source: UNAIDS, December 1998

The best way of checking the spread of HIV/AIDS worldwide is an approach that addresses the relationships between the medical aspects of the disease, its consequences for development and the socio-cultural factors that contribute to its transmission, said du Guerny. FAO and UNAIDS will undertake a series of joint activities, including integrated prevention programmes that will help spread information, especially to young men and women, about HIV vulnerability, risk reduction and sustainable rural development.

AIDS cripples agriculture and rural communities

FAO has focused on the crippling effects AIDS is having on agriculture and rural communities, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. There, nearly 23 million people, about 63 percent of the world's total, are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Labour-intensive farming systems with low levels of mechanization are particularly vulnerable to HIV/AIDS, because of its high death rate among working-age people. In addition, those afflicted with AIDS become increasingly unable to carry out their usual farm work as the disease progresses.

In Africa, HIV is typically transmitted through heterosexual sex, so often both parents become infected. The burden of caring for the sick, which typically falls on women, means that less time is available for tending crops. Children may be taken out of school to help the family cope, thereby mortgaging their future and isolating these children and their families from useful AIDS information. Important farm tasks such as weeding and pest control are left undone, and fields become less productive. Farm families earn less and less income precisely at a time when they need it most.

Declining incomes can force members of farm families to look for work in cities, and this rural/urban migration helps fuel the spread of the disease. A vicious circle develops, as HIV/AIDS increases rural poverty, which in turn contributes to the transmission of HIV.

"What is starting to emerge is the potential indirect but very important role that agricultural policies and programmes can play in mitigating the effects of HIV/AIDS in rural communities, by alleviating rural poverty, empowering rural women and encouraging changes in migratory movements," points out du Guerny. "This is an area where FAO may be able to make a key contribution in the fight against AIDS while promoting food security."

A recently published FAO report, HIV/AIDS and the commercial agriculture sector of Kenya: Impact, vulnerability, susceptibility and coping strategies, shows that the disease is affecting not only small family farms but also large agricultural estates. Kenya's commercial agricultural sector is losing a significant number of skilled workers, and companies are spending increasing amounts of money on medical expenses and employee retraining.

'Youth against Hunger' highlights threat to young people

Half of the new cases of HIV infection strike people under the age of 25. This fact has serious implications for food security, as young people play an important role in agricultural production. This year's theme for World Food Day, 'Youth Against Hunger', is raising awareness about the threat AIDS poses to young people and how it can undermine global efforts to reduce hunger.

Mr William Seiders, Rural Youth Officer with the FAO Sustainable Development Department's Extension, Education, and Communication Service, says, "With training and support, young people can play an active part in reducing the incidence of HIV/AIDS in their towns and villages. They can become tomorrow's community leaders in the struggle for rural development and the fight against hunger."

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27 October 1999

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