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New HIV/AIDS study puts focus on West Africa

HIV/AIDS' early detection and rapid spread in eastern Africa in the early 1980s led to that region being the focus of much scientific and media attention. But what about the western countries of sub-Saharan Africa? Are the patterns and effects of the disease afflicting rural communities in the West the same as those so well documented in the East? Or does the nature and path of the pandemic change from region to region?

West Africa and the effects of HIV/AIDS on its agricultural production systems and rural communities is the subject of an FAO study near completion in the rural areas of Burkina Faso and Côte d'Ivoire.

Rural areas of Burkina Faso and Côte d'Ivoire are the focus of new study on the effects of HIV/AIDS on agriculture in West Africa

Côte d'Ivoire, one of the most affluent countries in West Africa, is known to have the highest incidence of HIV infection in that region. Studies carried out early in the 1990s indicated infection levels of nearly 15 percent among pregnant women and as high as 62 percent among prostitutes in the capital city of Abidjan. And the high prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Côte d'Ivoire is of major concern to neighbouring Burkina Faso. Many people from that country, leaving what is one of the poorest and least-developed countries in the region, cross the border into Côte d'Ivoire each year in search of work. And the living and working conditions they usually find themselves in make them vulnerable to HIV infection. According to UN estimates, by the year 2005, HIV could be responsible for 20 to 24 percent more deaths in the 15-49 age group in both countries.

The West Africa study follows similar research carried out in Uganda, the United Republic of Tanzania and Zambia in 1993, the results of which were published by the FAO Farm Management and Production Economics Service (AGSP) in "The effects of HIV/AIDS on farming systems in eastern Africa" (FAO, 1995).

The idea of the new study is not to merely describe the impact in terms of losses in production, net earnings and labour force but also to identify promising coping mechanisms to combat HIV transmission and to tackle the impact on farm families' productive and non-productive activities. Concrete suggestions will also be made for national bodies, donors and non-governmental organizations to design both prevention and mitigation interventions.

And although field investigations carried out in the two countries focused primarily on the effects of HIV/AIDS on agriculture, a gender-sensitive approach was taken by assessing the different needs and labour migration strategies for both women and men affected by HIV/AIDS.

The results of the study are expected to be published in early spring.

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17 January 1997


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