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World Food Day 2003: More Than 800 Million Lack Enough To Eat - 2003-10-16

Zambia joined the rest of the world today in commemorating World Food Day. This year, the country recorded what authorities described as a good harvest. But HIV AIDS activists have warned that unless the food is the right kind and prepared correctly, more and more people will continue to die due to poor nutrition.

Professor Nkandu Luo, a former health minister and now an AIDS researcher in private practice, says celebrations over a bumper harvest may be misleading.

Professor Luo says some mistakenly believe that the availability of maize, the country’s staple food as well as the popular vegetable locally known as rape, is in itself a solution to food-related diseases and deaths.

"We know all of us that maize has very little food value in it especially when you remove the husk. And if people are going to live on maize and rape then there’s absolutely no food value in it. And we have too much processed food in the country and refined foods. And for people living with HIV/AIDS, that’s not the food they need. They need natural foods." The professor who is an immunologist says Zambia should begin to promote indigenous foods, most of which she says have tremendous food value. These include pumpkin leaves mixed with pounded groundnuts and wild fruits. She says the Zambian government can help adequately funding the Food and Nutrition Commission. The commission is a government agency whose mandate is to promote good nutrition. It undertakes the task, for example, by encouraging food- processing companies to fortify their products with vitamins and minerals. The issue of using nutrition to help fight HIV/AIDS is receiving more attention in Zambia. For example, the World Food Program has incorporated AIDS awareness activities in its food distribution programs. Lena Savelli is the public information officer for the WFP office here in the capital Lusaka.

"In all our programs, we have included an HIV/AIDS component. For example, under the urban intervention program, which is here in Lusaka, in Kafue and Chongwe, we provide training of HIV/AIDS when we do household distributions of food. So households cannot receive the food unless they attend the training." Experts say lack of food has contributed to the deteriorating HIV/AIDS situation in Southern Africa. The region is known to have the highest number of people infected and living with the AIDS virus. Also, the region has repeatedly experienced natural disasters that have contributed to severe food shortages. These include persistent drought in some areas - and in other areas floods, which have claimed scores of human lives.

But poor economic policies and lack of good governance in some countries of the region are also factors that experts cite as contributing factors to food shortages.