From the podium

From the podium

Ms Marika Fahlen (Director, Social Mobilization and Information, Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS - UNAIDS)

Thank you, Mr Chairman. Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen.

A dual tragedy has hit sub-Saharan Africa: that of famine and that of AIDS. Where lack of availability and affordable access to food is greatest, HIV prevalence is also alarmingly high. Contrary to what many would believe, the two emergencies are closely interlinked. In just two decades, AIDS has killed seven million agricultural workers in Africa. The epidemic has caused a loss of up to 50 percent of agricultural staff time in sub-Saharan Africa.

In other parts of the world, rural households have seen their agricultural output decline by more than half because of HIV/AIDS. Evidence confirms that it is no coincidence that six of the countries in Southern Africa presently experiencing the worst food shortages in a decade have particularly high HIV prevalence levels.

It would be simplistic to state that HIV/AIDS is a disease of the poor. But, once the epidemic gets hold, it breeds poverty, and increasingly the most vulnerable to HIV/AIDS are people marginalized from mainstream development in poor countries, many of them are women who traditionally sustain family farming. Because of AIDS, farming skills have been lost, agricultural extension services have declined in both capacity and outreach, rural livelihoods have disintegrated, productive capacity to work the land is disappearing, and household earnings are shrinking while the cost of caring for the ill skyrockets. In addition, many of the already poor and hungry rural households see their urban relatives suffering from HIV/AIDS return home to receive care. AIDS disproportionately affects mobile populations, many of whom are engaged in the agricultural, fisheries and rural transport sectors.

In a world of AIDS, rural development, food security and agricultural policies cannot be handled in isolation from the epidemic. The UN Special Session on HIV/AIDS of June last year recognized that the epidemic constitutes a serious threat to development, to social and political stability, to food security, to life expectancy and to macro-economic gains. The Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS represents the most important framework of accountability for the international community to address the tragedy that is AIDS.

As we speak today, 14 000 people will become newly infected with HIV, most of them in the prime of productivity, and living in low-income, food-deficit countries. Twenty million people have died because of AIDS and forty million more now live with HIV/AIDS; more than two-thirds of them in sub-Saharan Africa. Since most new infections occur among young people, the demographic pyramid as we once knew it has clearly to be redrawn.

HIV/AIDS, truly, is a development issue. It is a political concern of the highest magnitude. It is therefore gratifying that the political leadership of so many countries has taken on HIV/AIDS as a key national priority, and that several delegations at this Summit have made reference to the epidemic as a threat to food security. HIV/AIDS should be high on the agenda when addressing rural development and food security.

UNAIDS is working closely with FAO, IFAD and the World Food Programme to integrate HIV/AIDS into their particular fields of technical competence. The benefits are clear. Without success in HIV/AIDS prevention, care and support, the goals of the 1996 World Food Summit to halve the number of undernourished people by 2015 will not be met.

Integrating HIV/AIDS in policies and programmes that target food security and rural development would bring us a long way towards overcoming the devastation wrought by famine and AIDS.

I would like to conclude by saying that UNAIDS will continue to promote and support initiatives in the agricultural sector and rural development for a comprehensive approach to HIV/AIDS, and as a necessary element for the implementation of the outcome of this Summit.

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