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The HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) and AIDS (Acquired-Immunodeficiency Syndrome) that were “discovered” only a few years ago, have become a global threat against human life in such a short time. The World Health Organization (WHO) ranked HIV/AIDS in 1998 as the seventh highest cause of death worldwide. This ranking has now moved up to fourth place. According to the end of 2001 estimate figures released by the United Nations Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) (UNAIDS, 2002), various regions of the world have the following number of persons living with HIV or AIDS: South and Southeast Asia: 5.6 million; East Asia and Pacific: one million; Latin America: 1.5 million; Eastern Europe and Central Asia: one million; North America: 950 000; The Caribbean: 420 000; Western Europe: 550 000; Australia and New Zealand: 15 000; North Africa and Middle East: 500 000. The situation is the worst in sub-Saharan Africa where the figure is as high as 28.5 million and where 2.6 million people died of AIDS in 1999. The global figure for adults and children living with HIV/AIDS is 40 million, and probably growing. In 2001 alone, the AIDS deaths numbered 3 million, comprising 2.4 million adults, 1.1 million women and 580 000 children under 15 years. The number of children orphaned by AIDS, and living at the end of 2001 was 14 million. The estimates for world population growth rate are being revised downwards due to millions of past and projected deaths because of HIV/AIDS. The epidemic is threatening the very existence of human society in all parts of the world.

There have been numerous national, regional and global gatherings to discuss the problem of HIV/AIDS. The epidemic has been an item on the agendas of the summits of G8 and G77 nations, the Organization of American States, the Organization of African Unity, the Commonwealth of Nations, the European Union, the Association of South-East Asian Nations, the Caribbean Community Secretariat, the World Economic Forum and the World Social Forum. During 2000, a major international conference was held at Durban, South Africa in July, and the next event was the UN-sponsored second annual meeting of the African Development Forum held in Addis Ababa in December that discussed AIDS as the greatest leadership challenge. The UN World AIDS Day was also observed on the 1 December. In 2001, the most significant event has been the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS, held in New York 25-27 July, which in a true sense internationalized the issue, and underlined the urgent need for taking practical steps to resolve it. The UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, whilst opening the “Group of Eight” Summit in Genoa, Italy in July, called HIV/AIDS “a common enemy that knows no frontiers and threatens all people”. The need to strengthen the fight against the HIV/AIDS pandemic which threatens the lives and livelihood of millions of rural dwellers and jeopardizes rural development in several regions in Africa was underlined at the 22nd Regional Conference for Africa held in Cairo in February 2002. The impact of HIV/AIDS on development was widely discussed at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (Johannesburg, August 2002). The Executive Director of UNAIDS said that the disease is undermining food security as food reserves, livestock and land are sold to pay health costs. According to him, “the loss of agricultural skills means the food impact of AIDS will resound for generations. As urbanization continues, rural areas threaten to become unsustainable repositories of the very young, the very old and the sick.” In his address to the Summit, the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) said that apart from taking away people at the most productive time of their lives, the HIV/AIDS epidemic has indirect effects, such as the cost to farmers of trying to take care of those who are ill, the cost of funerals, and the cost of losing the transmission of know-how from one generation to the next.

Realizing the significance of the epidemic, several international development agencies have already initiated action. One of the Millennium Development Goals is to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases. As agreed at the UN General Assembly, AIDS-related spending needs to rise to US$ seven to ten billion to meet the main prevention and care needs of low- and middle-income countries. The World Bank has announced a special campaign and has created a task force, ACTafrica, to combat AIDS in the Africa region. The Asian Development Bank has unveiled a US$ 8.2 million plan to tackle the spread of HIV/AIDS in the Mekong Region of Thailand. The European Union is providing more than US$ 1.3 million to improve AIDS care facilities in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The FAO has conducted several studies in Africa showing the relationship between HIV/AIDS and food production. In addition, the FAO has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the UNAIDS. FAO has allocated US$ 17.7 million in emergency response, and has benefited 250 000 persons through supply of seeds, tools, fertilizer, and treadle pumps, restocking, animal disease control, vegetable gardening, and drought and labour-saving practices. There is no doubt that HIV/AIDS has quickly emerged as a very serious problem and the nations are desperately looking for practical solutions.

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