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International Women's Day: WFP focuses on women & HIV/AIDS

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ROME - "Women and HIV/AIDS" is WFP's theme for International Women's Day - marked by the United Nations World Food Programme with an awards ceremony for Agency staff and partners who have helped reduce the impact of the pandemic through food aid.
Most WFP beneficiaries are women - to ensure that food reaches those most in need. By focusing on women and HIV/AIDS, WFP is reaffirming its commitment to those in a key position, both as victims and as potential saviours, in bearing the brunt of the disease.

"Food aid plays a pivotal role in responding to HIV/AIDS. 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," said James T. Morris, WFP Executive Director.

"Women are on the frontline of this pandemic, and that is why we are drawing attention to their plight on this International Women's Day," Morris added. "While the task is enormous, we know that encouraging people, especially women, to speak openly about this dreadful scourge is one way of helping all of us inch forward in our humanitarian battle against HIV/AIDS."

Women are more vulnerable to contracting HIV/AIDS than men; in sub-Saharan Africa, where eight out of ten farmers are women, they account for 60 percent of the infected, with even higher rates for females aged from15-24. A woman living with HIV faces many challenges: her access to health services, care, counselling and information is likely to be severely limited. Equally restricted are her options to feed and care for herself and her family.

International Women's Day, an event celebrated by WFP for the tenth consecutive year, includes a presentation of awards at the Rome Headquarters to six women and organizations from Burundi, China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Rwanda and the Southern Africa region. All were nominated by WFP offices and the winners have made substantial contributions to addressing the problems faced by women affected by HIV/AIDS.

Following a video address by Mrs Graça Machel, President of the Foundation for Community Development in Mozambique and former First Lady in Mozambique and South Africa (two countries hard hit by HIV/AIDS), each award winner, or a representative from a winning group, will briefly present their work.

Some of WFP's award winners are themselves striving to live with HIV; their stories are powerful proof of the difference made by committed women and men in restoring the livelihoods and dignity of women affected by the terrible pandemic.

Food aid activities described during the ceremony are examples of WFP's commitment to place HIV/AIDS at the centre of its programmes. This commitment followed the Millennium Development Goals, declared in 2000 by UN member states. WFP food is distributed in nutritional centres, schools, hospitals, refugee and displaced persons' camps, as well as in workshops and training centres, where prevention occurs through raising awareness.

An agreement signed last month by WFP and UNAIDS formally increases their co-ooperation in saving millions of lives - especially in Africa, South-East Asia and the Caribbean. WFP takes responsibility for the management of HIV/AIDS-related food programmes, while UNAIDS offers a range of technical assistance. Joint efforts with a special focus on pregnant women and orphans will be directed to emergencies, and the two sides have pledged to make food security an integral part of the overall struggle against HIV/AIDS.

While the worst of the HIV/AIDS pandemic is yet to come, with death rates expected to peak from 2007-2009, WFP's Executive Director stressed the importance of recognizing and encouraging individuals' efforts as well as focusing on women's key role: "Our award winners represent a beacon of hope among their fellow citizens and sufferers; they are an example and an inspiration to all of us."

Note to media: photographs from the ceremony are available to journalists by contacting Rein Skullerud, tel. +39-06-6513 2687, e-mail: Rein.Skullerud@wfp.org

WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency. Every year WFP feeds around 80 million people in 82 countries including most of the world's refugees and internally displaced people.

WFP Global School Feeding Campaign -- As the largest provider of nutritious meals to poor school children, WFP has launched a global campaign aimed at ensuring the world's 300 million undernourished children are educated.

For more information please contact:

Trevor Rowe, WFP Chief Spokesperson, Tel. +39-06-65132602
|Caroline Hurford, Public Affairs Officer, WFP Rome, Tel. +39-06-65132330
Christiane Berthiaume, Public Affairs Officer, WFP Geneva, Tel. +41-22-9178564
Jordan Dey, Public Affairs Officer, WFP New York, Tel. +1-212-9635196