Three United Nations leaders issued a call in Johannesburg today for the world to refocus its attention on Southern Africa, as the region faces the triple threat of HIV/AIDS, food insecurity and weakened state capacity.
UN Special Envoy James Morris, UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) executive director Ann Veneman, and UNAIDS executive director Peter Piot warned in a joint statement that despite great strides made by governments and the international community in meeting the most critical needs of the region, the 'triple threat' still stalked Southern Africa, and more investment was needed if the gains of the last three years were to be sustained.
"Emergencies come and go, but we are now in an acute phase of a chronic problem, and the effects of this are going to be with us for generations to come," Morris said. "This is not about one issue or one country - many factors are converging to undermine the livelihoods of millions of people in Southern Africa. The complexity of the situation demands that we must do all we can to help governments in the region."
Due to the current dry spell and crop failure an estimated seven million people could need food assistance over the coming year. Although, final analysis of regional crop assessments is expected in early June.
The UN leaders noted that three years ago, at the height of the Southern African crisis, many countries in the region were without food security, access to treatment for people living with HIV/AIDS, or programmes to target the growing number of orphans and other vulnerable people.
As a result of concerted efforts by governments, civil society, the UN system and the international community, there was now greater diversification of crops and sources of income, which was helping to mitigate the impact of erratic weather; several countries had developed action plans to create safety nets for the more than four million orphans and other vulnerable children; and up to 176,000 people now received antiretroviral (ARV) treatment.
However, one million people were still not receiving ARVs.
UNAIDS spokesman Richard Delate told PlusNews that HIV/AIDS has had a "significant impact on all levels and aspects of society ... including food security".
"Children who have lost parents have to give up school so they can work the land; they have to take over the role of farming, and many of the [farm] implements are not made for children, [limiting their ability to provide food for the family]" he added.
Morris met with 10 UN country representatives from Southern Africa on Wednesday morning to review and examine current interventions, joint programming, UN reform, and strategies for addressing the multiple impacts of the triple threat.
The unprecedented nature of the crisis demanded support and action by the international community to assist governments. "No one UN agency, no donor and no government can do this alone: this is about partnerships and putting everything we have into tackling this together and making the money work," Morris said.
"For the sake of the children of Southern Africa we have to accelerate the momentum gained over the last three years - we cannot afford to let them down," he added.
Veneman agreed, saying, "It's crucial that we reverse the downward spiral on child survival in this region," and noted that treatment for HIV-positive children and adults was a critical element of the regional response, as "keeping more parents alive means fewer children orphaned by AIDS".
The three leaders emphasised the complexity of the triple threat. "Without food, antiretrovirals are less effective; without anti-retrovirals, children become orphans; and without a healthy and educated next generation, Southern Africa will have great difficulty breaking the cycle of poverty," they stressed.
"Over twenty years into the epidemic, we know that an exceptional response is required," said Piot. "We need to make sure that HIV prevention, food security and HIV treatment are integrated into a comprehensive response: this is the only way to get ahead of the epidemic. We must aim for universal access to HIV prevention and treatment."
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