Southern Africa: Food crisis aggravates spread of HIV
"During food crises, affected populations adopt a variety of coping mechanisms to survive. Such strategies often include: finding additional sources of food or income, migrating, dropping out of school, engaging in hazardous work, exchanging sex for food or cash," UNICEF said.
But these coping strategies are putting young people, especially girls, at high risk of HIV/AIDS infection. For some young girls, commercial sex work provides the only way to support themselves and their families.
The response to the food crisis could also increase HIV transmission. The risk, UNICEF said, was of truck drivers and workers involved in transporting and distributing food aid engaging in unprotected "transactional sex".
"Superimposing poor nutrition to common symptoms of HIV/AIDS can lead to the accelerated development of full-blown AIDS and death," the report added.
The distribution of food within families could also change, as household members perceived to be more healthy and productive could receive more food. In the context of shortages, children and HIV positive breast-feeding mothers would likely be given low priority, leading to their rapid decline, the report suggested.
"The drought will also lead to more unsafe water sources and increasing deaths due to diarrhoea," it added. This would have a negative impact on infants being bottle-fed, particularly if the mother had died, or was too ill to breast-feed.
Fewer resources within communities would make AIDS-affected households more vulnerable. A "diminished labour capacity" would force families to sell their assets and reduce levels of child care.
"As a result, children are withdrawn from or drop out of school to care for ailing family members, and help with income generation and food acquisition," the report said.
With fewer opportunities to earn an income or grow crops, households headed by women, children, and the elderly, would be especially vulnerable. It was critical to examine whether limited mobility and stigma played a role in families affected by the disease receiving less access to food assistance, the report added.
To reduce their weakness to sexual exploitation and HIV/AIDS, children had to be kept in school, the report urged.
"In order to do this, UNICEF will monitor school attendance and follow-up on children who drop out, as they are probably most-affected by the crisis," it said.
The agency would collaborate with the World Food Programme (WFP) to provide cooked meals at school, as the cost of one full meal was often greater than whatever a child could have earned by leaving school to work.
When responding to the food crisis, aid agencies should also consider targeted food distribution for orphans, child-headed households, elderly women and widows caring for children, the report added.
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