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UNICEF chief in southern Africa to focus attention on food, HIV crises

UNICEF chief in southern Africa to focus attention on food, HIV crises

Carol Bellamy
As southern Africa continues to battle a lethal mix of drought-induced food shortages and a rampant AIDS epidemic, the head of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) travelled to the region to focus global attention on a humanitarian crisis reshaping the lives of millions of children and women.

"This deadly combination of food shortages and HIV is having particularly devastating consequences for women and girls," Executive Director Carol Bellamy said. "Women are the lifeline of these southern African communities. They put the food on the table, and they're the ones that keep families going during such crises."

During her mission to generate more visibility for the situation in the region at a time global attention is directed at the conflict in Iraq, Ms. Bellamy said an urgent response is required to address not only the immediate needs of women, but also long-term underlying structural barriers and social norms fuelling the HIV/AIDS epidemic such as sexual abuse and limited access to productive assets.

UNICEF also released findings of its first comprehensive review of over 60 nutritional surveys and studies in Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe - the six predominantly agricultural countries hardest hit by the crisis. The findings showed that a further deterioration in nutritional status of young children had been averted, though certain age groups were vulnerable.

The review, undertaken in collaboration with Tulane University and the Community Systems Foundation, indicated that children under three years of age and those in urban and peri-urban areas had a more pronounced decline in nutritional status. It also showed that orphans were twice as likely to be malnourished as children with either or both parents alive.

The UN agency stated that 1 in 4 adults in the six countries now live with HIV or AIDS. The outlook for children is particularly bleak. The countries are home to 2.35 million children who have lost one or both parents to AIDS and 600,000 children under 15 who are HIV positive.