NAIROBI, 8 March (IRIN) - The World
Food Programme (WFP) says it is "very concerned" over the high
growth rates of HIV/AIDS in Burundi, which have reached 20 percent in urban
areas and 7.5 percent in the countryside.
"Due to the ongoing civil war in Burundi, the fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS is an enormous challenge," the agency said in a statement issued to mark Saturday's International Women's Day.
The agency, which is headquartered in Rome, has offices across the globe. As an expression of its concern for Burundi, in 2002, it supplied food to 5,524 HIV-affected persons and 3,937 HIV/AIDS orphans, as well as to 1,587 AIDS patients to help them prolong their lives.
"Food aid plays a pivotal role in responding to HIV/AIDS," WFP Executive Director James T. Morris said. "The first thing poor families affected by AIDS ask for is not cash or drugs, it is food. Food has to be one of the weapons in the arsenal against this disease."
He was speaking at an awards ceremony in Rome for agency staff and partners who have helped reduce the impact of the pandemic through food aid.
Women and HIV/AIDS is WFP's theme for this year's International Women's Day.
In recognition of her advocacy on behalf of women and HIV/AIDS in Burundi, Jeanne Gapiya, a member of Burundi's Association Nationale de Soutien aux Séropositifs aux malades du SIDA, was one of six women worldwide receiving a WFP award for her "outstanding contribution", the agency said. "She has mobilised and influenced the youth in secondary schools, the women's leagues, the media and the official authorities to combat against HIV/AIDS," WFP reported.
She had also created two centres for HIV examination and counselling to needy persons, especially the youth. As a result, the agency said, "many youngsters" had now adopted blood tests to examine their HIV/AIDS status. Gapiya, it added, had advocated for reducing the prices of HIV/AIDS medicines and obtained a concession from the government freeing such drugs from import taxes. "She was also awarded a medal by the first lady of Burundi for her commitment to fight against HIV/AIDS," WFP reported.
WFP said women were more vulnerable than men to HIV/AIDS; in sub-Saharan Africa, where eight in 10 farmers were women, they accounted for 60 percent of those infected, with even higher rates for females aged between 15 and 24.
The agency said a woman living with HIV faced many challenges, with access to health services, care, counselling and information likely to be severely limited. Equally restricted were her options to feed and care for herself and her family.
"Women are on the front line of this pandemic, and that is why we are drawing attention to their plight on this International Women's Day," Morris said.
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