35 Million (Minimum) Now Have
AIDS - Biggest Risk In Countryside

ROME (Reuters) - AIDS is becoming a greater threat in rural areas of the developing world than in the cities, undermining agricultural systems and jeopardizing food security, the UN's world food body said Thursday.
Of the 36.1 million people living with HIV/AIDS, an overwhelming 95 percent live in developing countries, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said in a statement posted on its Web page
``Within those countries, AIDS is becoming a greater threat in rural areas than in the cities,'' the FAO said.
``In absolute numbers, more people living with HIV reside in rural areas,'' it added.
The Rome-based organization said the epidemic was spreading with alarming speed into the remotest villages, cutting food production and threatening the very life of rural communities.
``AIDS undermines agricultural systems and affects the nutritional situation and food security of rural families,'' FAO said.
``As adults fall ill and die, families face declining productivity as well as loss of knowledge about indigenous farming methods and loss of assets,'' it added.
FAO has estimated that in the 25 most affected African countries, AIDS has killed 7 million agricultural workers since 1985. It could kill 16 million more within the next 20 years.
Africa accounts for only one tenth of the world's population but nine out of 10 new cases of HIV infection.
More than eight of every 10 AIDS deaths are in Africa, where the disease has killed 10 times more people than war.
Rural communities bear a higher burden of the cost of HIV/AIDS as many urban dwellers and migrant laborers return to their village of origin when they fall ill.
At the same time, household expenses rise to meet medical bills and funeral expenses, and while the number of productive family members declines, the number of dependents grows.
``These realities endanger both short-term and long-term household food security,'' FAO said.
Threat To Women And Girls
Biological and social factors make women and girls more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS than men and boys, FAO said.
Studies have shown that HIV infection rates in young women can be 3-5 times higher than among young men.
Some of the traditional mechanisms to ensure women's access to land in case of widowhood contribute to the spread of AIDS -- such as the custom that obliges a man to marry his brother's widow.
``Studies have shown that a widow who loses access to her husband's property can be forced into commercial sex as her only means of subsistence,'' FAO said.
Women and girls also face the greatest burden of work -- given their traditional responsibilities for growing much of the food and caring for the sick and dying.
In many hard-hit communities, girls are being withdrawn from school to help lighten the family load.
``It is clear that the epidemic is undermining the progress made in the last 40 years of agricultural and rural development,'' FAO said.
``This poses enormous challenges to governments, non-governmental organizations and the international community. The disease is no longer just a health problem -- it has become a major development issue.''

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