December 11, 2008
Speaking on the sidelines of the recent 15th International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Africa in Dakar, Senegal, top experts at the UN World Food Program warned the current global economic meltdown could exacerbate a persisting food crisis and rising HIV/AIDS infection rates on the continent.
"What is coming down the pipe in terms of the financial crisis cannot be underestimated," said WFP Deputy Executive Director Sheila Sisulu. Reduced donor aid for nutritional and health care support could push millions more Africans into a self-perpetuating cycle of poverty, disease, and death.
Africa suffers from the double threat of increased malnutrition and diseases such as HIV/AIDS and TB. Africans who lack adequate nutrition -- due to conflict, natural disasters or high prices -- have weakened immune systems, making them more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS and TB. The deaths from disease of family breadwinners drain the economic lifeline for households as well as whole economies, said Martin Bloem, WFP's Nutrition and HIV/AIDS Policy chief.
Bloem pleaded with rich governments not to cut international aid allocations due to the global credit crunch. "The [rise in] food prices at the beginning of the year and now the economic crisis, this is enormous, the urgency to act now is so much bigger," he said.
"The number of people dependent on external resources will increase over the next few years; the economic crisis will diminish the amount of money that we will get," Bloem said. "How can we cope with these incredible needs?"
Sisulu and Bloem said efforts to address Africa's HIV/AIDS pandemic should work to improve the deficient nutritional intake of most poor Africans in addition to emphasizing medical treatment.