ROME, 4 July 2002 -- No country with more than 1 per cent of its population suffering from HIV/AIDS can base its strategy for combating the disease purely on medical measures, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today warned in advance of the 14th International AIDS Conference to be held in Barcelona on 7-12 July.

"It is a question of figures," says Marcela Villarreal, Head of the FAO Population and Development Service and the Focal Point for HIV/AIDS issues.

"Of the 40 million HIV-infected people, 28.1 million live in Africa. Even the lowest current annual per capita cost of treatment of US$350 in many cases still exceeds annual average per capita income in many of the most seriously affected countries."

AIDS used to be mainly an urban problem, but it has now moved out into the countryside of the developing countries, devastating whole farming communities and leaving the impoverished survivors scarcely able to feed themselves. The latest figures issued by the FAO programme on HIV/AIDS on sub-Saharan Africa, the region most seriously devastated by the disease, confirm the widespread repercussions the epidemic has had in the countryside: AIDS has killed some 7 million farm labourers since 1985 in the 25 most seriously affected countries in Africa, and by 2020 could claim a further 16 million victims.

"The African countryside is fast being drained of labour. The transfer of agricultural knowledge and know-how, passed down from generation to generation, is interrupted, leaving behind a hungry population of women and children who, in many cases, turn to prostitution as the only way they can manage to feed themselves," says Marcela Villarreal. This makes it necessary to address the issue by reducing the vulnerability of the people suffering from it. This, in FAO's opinion, means investing in rural development to be able to guarantee food security and nutrition for the communities that are having to live with the disease.

On Thursday, 11 July, at the Barcelona Conference Centre (Fira de Barcelona, Plaša d'Espanya y Palau S. Jordi, Montjuic), FAO and other specialized United Nations agriculture and food security agencies have organized a parallel event within the framework of the Barcelona Conference entitled: The challenge of HIV/AIDS to nutrition and food security. Its aim is to draw attention to the importance of guaranteeing food security to all these populations and to propose solutions that will prevent and mitigate the effects of HIV/AIDS on rural communities and households, and help the stricken populations break out of the vicious circle of rural poverty.

The event will be attended by officials and focal points for HIV/AIDS issues from FAO, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO), as well as representatives of non-governmental organizations from Africa and Asia, and academics from several universities.

N.B. Recent Betacam video material is available in English and Spanish on FAO activites aimed at mitigating the impact of HIV/AIDS on rural communities and households. Copies for TV journalists can be obtained by calling FAO Media Relations Office, tel. +39 06 5705 2232.