The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Southern African countries has dropped by 2.6 percent because of HIV/AIDS, according to the development NGO, ActionAid International.
"There is a direct link between HIV/AIDS prevalence and the drop in food production in the region," the head of ActionAid's Southern Africa partnership programme, Caroline Sande-Mukulira, told PlusNews at the end of a four-day summit on HIV/AIDS and poverty in the South African capital, Pretoria.
Southern Africa is home to less than two percent of the world's population, but has 30 percent of all people living with HIV/AIDS.
A study conducted by ActionAid found that between 1995 and 2001, most Southern African Development Community countries recorded a decline in their Human Development Index. In 2003 a survey revealed that life expectancy in almost the entire region, except Mauritius and the Seychelles, was less than 51 years, while in Zambia it was as low as 33.4 years.
The international head of ActionAid's HIV/AIDS desk, Jackie Bataringaya, attributed the region's failure to slow the spread of HIV/AIDS to a lack of political commitment.
Bataringaya pointed out that despite a commitment by African heads of state in 2001 at a special summit in Abuja, Nigeria, to devote 15 percent of their budget to health, only two countries had lived up to that promise. "Less than five percent of the HIV/AIDS-infected women in the region have access to antiretrovirals," she noted.
"Spending any money on the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS is an investment - what is the point in spending money on constructing schools when you won't have any children or teachers to attend them?" asked ActionAid's Leonard Okello, who heads the Support to International Partnership Against AIDS in Africa (SIPAA).
Sande-Mukulira remarked that a few years ago, African countries battling with the HIV/AIDS crisis lacked the funds and resources to deal with the pandemic. "Now take Lesotho and Swaziland as examples, who have since received millions of dollars of aid, but have hardly spent it."
Rather than "shouting slogans from across the road, we feel we should work with the government and empower other members of the civil society in these countries, to ensure programmes are implemented," said Sande-Mukulira.
SIPAA is operational in nine African countries and was launched with funding from the British Department for International Development (DFID) to provide government departments with the technical know-how to implement programmes, such as providing antiretrovirals, increasing public awareness, reducing stigma and discrimination, and helping countries to draw up strategic plans, with the active involvement of people living with HIV/AIDS.
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