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Press Release 01/30


Rome, 10 May 2001 - A new report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, (FAO) projects that deaths caused by HIV/AIDS* in the ten most affected African countries will reduce the labour force by as much as 26 percent by 2020. The report estimates that since 1985 some 7 million agricultural workers have died from AIDS related diseases in 27 severely affected African countries. An estimated 16 million more deaths are reported likely in the next two decades.

The report, prepared for the 27th Session of the Committee on World Food Security, meeting in Rome 28 May - 1 June, says: "Throughout history, few crises have presented such a threat to human health and social and economic progress as does the HIV/AIDS epidemic."

Some 36 million people worldwide are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, 95 percent of those people live in developing countries. Sub-Saharan Africa is the region hardest hit by the epidemic, with 24 million people infected. India, with more than 4 million people infected, is the country with the largest population living with HIV. The virus is having a major impact on nutrition, food security, agricultural production and rural societies in many countries, according to the report. Since the disease commonly strikes the most economically productive members of society, HIV/AIDS is a problem of critical importance for agricultural, economic and social development.

"HIV/AIDS can have devastating effects on household food security and nutrition," according to the report. A downward spiral of the family's welfare begins when the first adult in a household falls ill.

"There is increased spending for health care and decreased productivity. Food production and income drop dramatically as more adults are affected. Once savings are gone, the family seeks support from relatives, borrows money or sells its productive assets," according to the report. "One study in Uganda showed that 65 percent of the AIDS-affected households were obliged to sell property to pay for care. Frequently, children are forced to discontinue schooling, as the family needs help and cannot pay school expenses. Time dedicated to child-care, hygiene, food processing and preparation is sacrificed. When the AIDS patient dies, expenditures are incurred for the funeral and the productive capacity of household is reduced."

Research in Tanzania showed that per capita food consumption dropped by 15 percent in the poorest households when an adult died. Food consumption is further affected when mothers die, since they are usually responsible for meal preparation. For the patient, malnutrition and HIV/AIDS can form a vicious cycle whereby undernutrition increases the susceptibility to infections and consequently worsens the severity of the HIV/AIDS disease.

According to the FAO report, the loss of able-bodied adults affects the entire society's ability to maintain and reproduce itself. "Agricultural skills may be lost since children are unable to observe their parents working." HIV/AIDS takes an especially heavy toll on the poor. Affected rural families often transfer to non-farm jobs. Some people migrate in search of employment or look for quick money, which may lead to such high-risk behavior as drug abuse and prostitution, the report says.

To combat the continued spread of the disease and reduce its impact, the FAO report makes a number of recommendations that will be reviewed by the Committee on World Food Security meeting in Rome from 28 May -1 June 2001. The recommendations stress "strong advocacy strategies to raise awareness of governments, policy makers, ministries, opinion leaders and the general public about the impact of HIV/AIDS." It also calls for support to ensure that destitute children and other AIDS-affected household members can meet their daily food requirements and other basic needs.

The report advocates the review of laws and practices concerning access to land and resources to ensure that the livelihoods of widows, orphans and other poor HIV/AIDS-affected household are protected. Other recommendations include the establishment of household food security and community nutrition programmes as well as training and educating agricultural extension workers to assist HIV/AIDS-affected households and countries.

The report also recommends that donor countries assist in HIV/AIDS prevention and reduce its negative impact on food security by providing advice and resources to countries heavily affected by the virus. Such assistance, the report says, might include food aid to provide supplementary feeding to households and orphanages.

During the last decade, FAO has undertaken assessments of the impact of HIV/AIDS on agriculture, food security and rural development, and has provided assistance to countries in developing their programmes. In 1999, FAO signed an agreement with UNAIDS to collabourate in developing broad-based responses to HIV/AIDS in relation to agricultural development and food security.

*Human Immunodeficiency Virus/*Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome

* * * * *

For more information please contact John Riddle, Media Relations Officer, Tel: 0039-06-5705 3259.

The full FAO report is available at the following URL:

Related link:
FAO in depth focus:
AIDS - a threat to rural Africa

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