News24, 06 November 2002, Gauteng indaba targets Aids

Johannesburg - United Nations agencies have started a two-day meeting to discuss the HIV/Aids pandemic and its potential impact on the food crisis in southern Africa.

UN official Judith Lewis said: "The high prevalence of HIV/Aids in the region means we're feeding many people who already are caught up in the wider Aids emergency and whose defences have been weakened."

Richard Lee of UNAids said the event started on Wednesday morning and would be attended by more than 50 representatives from UN agencies, local and international non-governmental organisations and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

Delegates will try to devise a new strategy to help combat HIV/Aids, focusing on how the UN World Food Programme (WFP) can make food aid more nutritious for people with Aids.

UNAids said: "According to nutritionists, people living with HIV/Aids should increase their food intake and eat about 50% more protein as well as foods rich in micronutrients."

"One of the many issues under discussion will be how the UN WFP can alter the size and composition of its food aid rations in the light of HIV/Aids."

Food plays crucial role

UNAids team leader for eastern and southern Africa, Bunmi Makinwa, said the whole approach to the disease needed to be reassessed.

"People across the region keep saying to us that food is the first and best drug against HIV/Aids.

"So, we need to decide how best to use and target food aid to help affected families. But, we also need to reassess our whole approach to HIV/Aids and this humanitarian crisis."

Labour forces take a dive

A report by the UN special envoy for humanitarian needs in southern Africa showed that HIV/Aids was the single greatest threat to the region's people.

Agricultural production had fallen significantly because many adults were too sick to work, said UNAids.

The most-affected countries are Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The UN estimated that HIV/Aids was responsible for a 9.6% depletion in Zimbabwe's agricultural labour force in 2000, while Malawi lost 5.8%.

UN figures said 14.4 million people in the six countries were facing starvation in the next few months without food aid. - Sapa-AFP