UNAIDS called for stronger action on famine and HIV/AIDS.
HIV/AIDS and hunger were a dual tragedy threatening sub-Saharan Africa, and endangering the lives of millions. They were also hindering development, UNAIDS told the World Food Summit in Rome on Wednesday.
Where the lack of food is greatest, HIV prevalence is alarmingly high, Marika Fahlen, head of social mobilisation at UNAIDS, said.
She added: In a world of AIDS, rural development, food security and agricultural policies cannot be handled in isolation from the epidemic.
It was no coincidence, she said, that six of the countries in Southern Africa experiencing the worst food shortages in a decade, had particularly high HIV prevalence levels.
Fahlen noted the impact of the epidemic in rural areas: Because of AIDS, farming skills have been lost, agricultural extension services have declined, rural livelihoods have disintegrated, productive capacity to work the land has dropped and household earnings are shrinking while the cost of caring for the ill skyrockets.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), HIV/AIDS has killed around 7 million agricultural workers since 1985 in the 25 hardest-hit countries in Africa, and food consumption has dropped by 40 percent in homes afflicted by HIV/AIDS.
The impact of HIV/AIDS on agricultural production and food availability would be felt in terms of quantity and quality of food, the FAO said in a document presented at the summit.
In Zimbabwe, communal agricultural output has decreased 50 percent in a five-year period, largely due to HIV/AIDS, it added.
HIV/AIDS was also a development issue, as it undermined three of the main indicators of economic growth: physical, human and social capital.
The UN Development Programme estimates for South Africa suggest that the Human Development Index could be 15 percent lower in 2010 due to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the document said.
Fahlen said: 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.
Although the 1996 UN World Food Summit final declaration included a mention that HIV/AIDS can have a particularly devastating impact on food security, Fahlen called for the summit to take more forceful action to reverse the toll that HIV/AIDS had already taken on the continent. (Source: The Star, 11 June 2002)