AIDS Seen Spur to Africa Famine; Farmers Are Left Too Weak to Plant
October 9, 2002
AIDS has contributed heavily to southern Africa's growing famine, killing vast numbers of agricultural workers and leaving countless sick farmers too weak to plant crops, according to a UN team that recently toured the region. HIV infects more than 20 percent of adults in six southern African countries, targeting those between ages 15 and 49. Now many places are seeing vast numbers of a generation dying, leaving a generation of orphans unable to feed and care for themselves.
"The relationship between the HIV/AIDS pandemic and the reduced capacity of people and governments of southern Africa to cope with the current food crisis is striking," said a report of the six-nation trip written by James T. Morris, special envoy of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan for Humanitarian Needs in Southern Africa. "HIV/AIDS is causing agricultural productivity to decline, forcing children to drop out of school, and placing an extraordinary burden on families and health systems." The Sept. 24 report said donors and governments in the region may not fully understand the link between AIDS and famine. "HIV/AIDS is a fundamental, underlying cause of vulnerability in the region, and represents the single largest threat to its people and societies," Morris wrote.
"I think it is reasonable to argue that AIDS has caused the famine, that what we all feared one day would happen is happening," Stephen H. Lewis, UN Special envoy on HIV/AIDS in Africa, said of the lack of farm workers. "There is no time left to contemplate," he said. "There is only time to act." UNAIDS estimates there are 4.2 million orphans in the countries facing the worst food shortages: Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique, Lesotho and Swaziland.
In one study of the Tororo region in Uganda, researchers found that many people with AIDS and other diseases raised crops to sell at the market, but kept very little food for themselves. Some farmers are starving, said Ugandan AIDS activist Sophia Mukasa Monico, because they sell most of their crops to raise money to buy their drugs and send their children to school. "You had people dying of hunger but they had food to sell. That really amazed me," she said.
10.07.02; John Donnelly
This article was provided by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update. Visit the CDC's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.