WFP and UNAIDS join forces against HIV/AIDS

Rome, 6 February 2003 - The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) formally joined forces to cope with the growing links between HIV/AIDS, regional food shortages and chronic hunger. An agreement signed today at WFP's Executive Board meeting increases their co-operation to save millions of lives - especially in Africa, South-East Asia and the Caribbean.
"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. And food has to be one of the weapons in the arsenal against this disease," said James T. Morris, WFP's Executive Director.

"The HIV/AIDS epidemic and the hunger it brings with it, are triggering the premature death of thousands of productive people - particularly women - across southern Africa, as well as wrecking the livelihoods of millions more, which will undoubtedly provoke future famines," Morris added, having recently been in Africa - home to around three quarters of the global number of people, 42 million, currently living with HIV/AIDS.

"People living with HIV/AIDS as well as those who are malnourished are caught in a vicious cycle," said Dr Peter Piot, UNAIDS Executive Director. "Those who are infected are often unable to feed themselves. Without good nutrition, they are robbed of one of the defences against AIDS-related illnesses and early death. At the same time, hunger often forces people to engage in high-risk survival strategies, such as sex work, which in turn

" Seven million farmers have lost their lives to AIDS in Africa and that is having a dramatic impact on food production. WFP and UNAIDS are calling for a radical and urgent approach to address the fatal links between the disease, chronic food shortages and malnutrition. AIDS-affected households are often hungry, farmers are too weak to plant, families do not have the capacity to produce or purchase food, forcing people to adopt survival strategies that might endanger their lives. Some migrate, often to urban slums where they lack access to education and health services; women and children are forced to barter sex for food, jobs and other basic essentials; and children leave school to find work or forage for food.

Under the agreement, WFP and UNAIDS will direct their joint efforts to emergency situations with a special focus on pregnant women and orphans, among the most vulnerable to the impact of HIV/AIDS. At the same time, they will strive to make food security an integral part of the battle waged by governments and partners against HIV/AIDS.

WFP takes responsibility for the management of HIV/AIDS-related food programmes, while UNAIDS will offer technical assistance, promoting access to care including home-based care, impact evaluation, the reduction of vulnerability to HIV/AIDS and the identification of appropriate local partners.

WFP and UNAIDS will work to improve the access of orphans and other vulnerable children to WFP school feeding programmes. Both organizations will also explore other options to relieve needy children, such as take-home rations, food for work, food for vocational training and apprenticeships.

UNAIDS will support WFP in advocating for research in nutrition and food security issues related to HIV/AIDS.

Finally, WFP and UNAIDS will seek a wide range of partnerships from UN agencies, governments, bilateral donors and with international NGOs and civil society groups in order to build a massive global response to HIV/AIDS.

"Action is required urgently," Morris emphasized. "Only through building partnerships can we hope to avert catastrophe and prevent HIV/AIDS from threatening the very existence of so many people in desperate need of our help.

" Note to media: Photographs from the signing ceremony are available to journalists by contacting Rein Skullerud, Tel.: +39-06-65132687.

WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency and the United Nations' front-line agency in the fight against global hunger. WFP assists around 80 million people a year in 82 countries.

UNAIDS is the leading advocate for worldwide action against HIV/AIDS, bringing together eight United Nations organizations. It leads, strengthens and supports an expanded response to the epidemic that will prevent the spread of HIV, provide care and support for those infected and affected by the disease, reduce the vulnerability of individuals and communities to HIV/AIDS, and alleviate the impact of the epidemic.

For more information please contact:

Trevor Rowe, WFP Chief Spokesperson, Tel. +39-06-65132602
Christiane Berthiaume, Public Affairs Officer, WFP Geneva, Tel. +41-22-9178564
Khaled Mansour, Public Information Officer, WFP New York, Tel +1-212-9635196

Anne Winter, UNAIDS Geneva, Tel. +41-22-791 4577
Dominique De Santis, UNAIDS Geneva, Tel. +41-22-791 4509
Andrew Shih, UNAIDS New York, Tel. +1-212-584 5024