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Hunger and Poverty Linked to Spread of AIDS - 2002-06-12

AIDS experts say hunger is helping spread the disease. They say efforts must be stepped up to provide food to hungry people, especially in sub-Saharan Africa where the risk of contracting AIDS is very high.

Officials meeting at the World Food Summit in Rome say almost 13 million people are at risk of starvation in southern Africa. The region is one of the world's worst hunger spots. One in four people living there are malnourished.

Experts at the summit say the severe food shortage in six southern African nations - Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique, Lesotho and Swaziland - also raises the risk of the spread of HIV/AIDS. They say hunger and poverty leave people more vulnerable to the disease.

The head of social mobilization at the UNAIDS agency. Marika Fahlen, says a dual tragedy has hit sub-Saharan Africa. She says where lack of food is greatest, HIV prevalence is alarmingly high.

Experts at the summit say they believe winning the war on hunger is vital to reduce the spread of AIDS. One says that providing food to hungry people would in itself contribute to prevention of the epidemic.

The UNAIDS agency says the disease has killed seven million farmers in Africa in the past 20 years, causing a 50 per cent drop in labor productivity. The agency says 16 million more deaths are expected in Africa in the next two decades.

The spread of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa has been the cause of a large number of other problems. Farming skills have been lost, rural livelihoods have disintegrated, and productive capacity to work the land has dropped.

In addition, household incomes are shrinking while the cost of caring for the ill has risen significantly. The executive director of the World Food Program, James Morris, notes that "families afflicted with AIDS have higher health expenses."

The United Nations estimates that about 40 million people suffer from AIDS. Of these, more than 13 million are AIDS orphans whose parents have died from the disease. Most AIDS patients and AIDS orphans live in sub-Saharan Africa.