UN calls for faster actions in dealing AIDS, food shortage in southern Africa

Senior United Nations (UN) officials on Wednesday urged southern Africa to move faster in coping with "triple threat" of HIV/AIDS, food insecurity and the loss of human capacity in the region.

Such a threat that has killed and hungered millions of people was still stalking the region, despite great strides have been made in meeting the most critical needs, they said at a press conference in Johannesburg.

"We are now in an acute phase of a chronic problem and the effects of this are going to be with us for generations to come," said James
Morris, the UN Secretary General's Special Envoy for Humanitarian Needs in Southern Africa.

The UN estimated that 7 million people could need food assistance over the coming year due to dry spell and crop failure, and 1 million people living with HIV/AIDS were still in need of life-prolonging drugs.

Just finishing his visit to Zambia on Tuesday, Morris said Zambia
experienced prolonged dry spells over the last growing season, which
resulted in dramatically reduced crop yields - up to 90 percent in some districts of the country.

Morris, together with Ann Veneman, new chief of UN Children's Fund, and executive director of Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS Peter Piot, hold a review meeting on Wednesday with ten country representatives from the UN system in southern Africa to address the grave crisis driven by HIV/AIDS and food shortage.

Lacking food and anti-retroviral (ARV) for AIDS treatment has pushed
southern Africa into a vicious circle of poverty, they said.

"Over twenty years into the epidemic, we know that an exceptional
response is required. We are seeing this increasingly at all levels and especially in communities across the region," said Piot.

Many southern African countries had no food security and access to
treatment for people living with HIV/AIDS three years ago, when the region was at the height of crisis.

There has been a move to diversify crops and sources of income that has helped to mitigate the impact of erratic weather, and countries like Swaziland have had action plans to create safety nets for more than 4 million AIDS orphans and other vulnerable children, the UN officials said.

Up to 176,000 people were now receiving the ARV treatment in the
region, according to a UN press release.

"But the reality is all is going too slow and in too small scale," Piot told the press.

Southern African countries such as South Africa, Swaziland and Botswana have the highest HIV prevalence rate in the world, with some 20 percent or over 30 percent of the population being infected. The majority of them are young adults.

Governments of some countries have long been complaining that lack of funding, infrastructure, medical staff and technical support had caused the slowness in providing ARV treatment and care to patients.

But civil society groups and even UN institutions argued that the lack of strong commitment from political leadership was the leading cause.

The World Health Organization had warned a lack of political will in
South Africa, Nigeria and India could make its target to get 3 million people in developing countries on ARV drugs by the end of this year unlikely to be met.

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