The HIV/AIDS epidemic is fuelling a deadly famine in southern Africa with more than 14 million people at risk of starvation in Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe, according to a new United Nations report, AIDS Epidemic Update 2002, released today in London.In all of these predominantly agricultural societies with a combined adult population of 26 million, more than 5 million adults have HIV/AIDS while 600,000 children under 15 years old live with the virus, the report says.Published by the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the World Health Organization (WHO), the report details how AIDS combine with other factors such as droughts, floods and short-sighted national and international policies, to cause a steady fall in agricultural production and household income.According to the report, 7 million agricultural workers in 25 African countries have died of AIDS since 1985, while in 2001 alone, the virus killed nearly 500,000 people in the six countries threatened with famine. “The famine is a tragic example of how this epidemic combines with other crises to create even greater catastrophes,” UNAIDS Executive Director, Dr. Peter Piot said. The example of southern Africa illustrates that AIDS cannot be addressed in isolation and that responses to the epidemic must take account of its impact in every economic and social sector, he added.The report also shows that AIDS is rapidly expanding in new areas, with Eastern Europe and the Central Asian Republics accounting for the world’s fastest growth. In these regions, it says, there were 250,000 new infections in 2002, bringing the total number of people living with HIV/AIDS to 1.2 million.The report, however, notes some early signs of success in Zambia, Uganda, Ethiopia and South Africa, where the number of pregnant women under age 20 who are HIV-positive fell to 15.4 per cent in 2001 from 21 per cent in 1998. It also shows strong evidence that HIV infections are stabilizing in the Dominican Republic and levelling off in Cambodia, the country in Asia with the highest adult population living with the virus. HIV infection among sex workers fell from 42 per cent in 1998 to 29 per cent in 2002.The report says of the 42 million people living with AIDS globally, 5 million were infected in 2002 while 3.1 million people died of the disease this year.
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