AIDS Slaughter Cuts Staple
Food Supply In Zimbabwe


HARARE (AFP) - The AIDS pandemic which is killing more than 300 people a day in Zimbabwe has reduced the country's production of staple food crops by as much as 60 percent, an AIDS expert told a farmers' conference here.
Kerry Kay, a specialist AIDS consultant for the Commercial Farmers Union (CFU), said studies had shown a marked drop in the output of the country's main crops.
"Maize output in communal and resettlement farming has fallen 61 percent because of AIDS, cotton output has been reduced by 47 percent and vegetable production by 49 percent," she told an annual congress of mainly white commercial farmers Wednesday.
The agricultural industry, which employs more people than any other sector in the country is grappling with the AIDS pandemic while the government is turning a blind eye to the problem, she charged.
"The national decision makers cannot continue to shroud themselves under the cloak of denial - they do this at the expense of our people and the future development of our country," she said.
She said the official figure of 300 AIDS death per day was an understatement as other estimates ame up with a figure of more than 700.
She castigated the government for claiming that there was not enough money for AIDS prevention, control and care programmes when it was spending millions of dollars in the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
"That is totally unacceptable and extremely irresponsible, considering the amount being spent on the defence budget and sending our troops to the DRC," she said.
Zimbabwe is spending 70 million dollars (almost two million US dollars) a month on its military intervention in the DRCongo (DRC), according to official figures, while a national state department responsible for the coordination of AIDS programmes gets one million dollars (about 26,000 US dollars) a month.
She said the trend of the epidemic would not be reversed unless government showed political will and made health its top priority.
Kay said about 300 new infections occurred daily, and life insurance premiums had quadrupled in two years due to HIV/AIDS.
An estimated two million Zimbabweans, out of a population of 11 million, are infected with the Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV), the precursor to the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).
The disease is expected to kill 80,000 Zimbabweans this year alone, bringing the cumulative toll to 400,000 since the start of the epidemic some 14 years ago.
Since 1985, around 1.6 million people out of Zimbabwe's population of 12 million have been infected with the AIDS virus, and at least 600,000 children have been orphaned by the disease.
Roughly one in every six children on the country's farms are orphaned by AIDS.