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International News

In Lesotho, Outbreak of HIV Leaves Fields -- and Lives -- Barren

June 1, 2005

Even in the best of times, the southern African country of Lesotho grows only half the food it consumes. The present year is the fourth with erratic rains, affecting the 70 percent of residents who farm for a living. Because one in three adults is infected with HIV, the nation lacks an adequate number of healthy workers to tend the crops. Funds needed for farming supplies are being spent on medical care and funerals. Many families go deep in debt to buy the cow that tradition calls for slaughtering at the funeral feast.

According to a UN study, in some parts of Lesotho almost a quarter of households lose at least three months of labor a year to AIDS and related chronic diseases. AIDS orphans comprise 5 percent of the population. Chronic illness is leaving half the nation's farm families short of labor, the UN said. Some 120,000 residents rely on the UN's World Food Program each month.

While women traditionally tend the fields, those who are caring for the ill cannot do so. Tradition dictates that to return to the fields soon after the death of a fellow villager is to risk bad luck, so women in mourning are discouraged from going back to farming.

Other economic factors are also in play. From January, Lesotho's fledgling garment industry has been hit hard by the United States' lifting of quotas on cheaper Chinese goods, resulting in the loss of thousands of textile jobs. Most garment industry workers are women, and some without work may turn to prostitution. Thousands of gold miners in South Africa have also been laid off, many of whom are returning home to Lesotho. About one-third of the miners are thought to be HIV-positive, meaning their return could further spread the virus.

Back to other news for June 1, 2005

Adapted from:
Baltimore Sun
05.29.05; Scott Calvert

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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