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Monday, November 5, 2007

IRIN News examines relationship between HIV/AIDS and Food Shortages In Southern Africa

IRIN News on Wednesday examined how HIV/AIDS and food shortages in Southern Africa are "reinforcing each other." According to the recently released book, "Silent Hunger: Policy Options for Effective Responses to the Impact of HIV and AIDS on Agriculture and Food Security in the SADC Region," food shortages and HIV/AIDS in Southern Africa are "leading to a potentially tragic new level of famine."

"Silent Hunger" is based on a study that examined the impact of HIV/AIDS in the seven most-affected countries in Southern Africa: Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The study -- which was commissioned by the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network -- found that in Botswana, 81% of respondents had three or more meals daily before becoming HIV-positive, compared with 49% who had three or more meals daily after contracting the virus. In addition, about two-people years of labor are lost by the time one person dies of AIDS-related causes because of illness and time spent providing care, according to the book.

HIV-associated hunger typically affects "productive," or adult, family members first, whereas traditional drought-related famines often affect dependent family members -- such as children and elderly -- first, the book says. In addition, the book says that because of social and cultural traditions, women often "bear the brunt of the epidemic" by caring for people living with HIV/AIDS and by being at higher risk of HIV transmission.

According to a recently released World Bank report on agriculture, there is a "tremendous scope" for agriculture policy to respond to HIV. The report called for the promotion of labor-saving technology and crops to address labor losses resulting from AIDS-related deaths. According to Marcela Villarreal, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization's focal point for HIV/AIDS, the agency has encouraged some countries to develop policies to assist farmers affected by HIV/AIDS. In addition, the agency has developed Junior Farmer Field and Life Schools -- in which children ages 12 to 17 who have been affected by HIV/AIDS receive education in agricultural techniques, entrepreneurship and HIV/AIDS -- in 10 Southern and Eastern African countries.

The main sources of income for many families in the region affected by HIV/AIDS include government food parcels, pension grants, orphan and foster care grants, and child grants because many families are unable to make an income through farming, IRIN News reports. According to Lindiwe Majele Sibanda, executive director of FANPRAN, longitudinal household surveys are needed in Southern Africa to track the impact of HIV/AIDS on agriculture and food security. "We need trend analysis if we are to adequately inform policy development," Sibanda said, adding that smaller studies are "not giving a full picture of the pandemic's impact" (IRIN News, 10/31).

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