ROME - In the lead up to World AIDS Day (1 December), the heads of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and World Vision joined forces to urge a massive increase in donor funds for school feeding - a largely untapped yet effective way to attract children to school and stem HIV/AIDS infections among the young.
There is growing evidence linking the level of education to a stable or lower incidence of HIV. For instance, research shows that AIDS spreads twice as fast among uneducated girls in Zambia, while young rural Ugandans with a secondary education are three times less likely to be HIV-positive than those with no education.
The HIV/AIDS pandemic is affecting young people disproportionately; out of more than 7,000 people who contract HIV daily, half of them are 15-24-year olds. The group least likely to be infected are aged 5-14, primary school children who represent the "window of opportunity" to raise an HIV/AIDS-free generation.
WFP and World Vision aim to help protect this vital age group as part of their strategic, long-term relationship, which involves a joint response to the epidemic, being piloted in Burundi, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Uganda and Mauritania. WFP provides food assistance while World Vision provides complementary activities, such as life skills training.
"A basic meal in school is the gateway to a better, brighter and, crucially, an HIV/AIDS free future," said James T. Morris, WFP's Executive Director. "Educated children - particularly girls - have a reduced risk of contracting HIV. Experience shows that schools are excellent entry points for reaching communities with HIV/AIDS sensitization and awareness."
"While we applaud the extra funds for treatment and the roll-out of antiretroviral drugs (ARVs), the international community must not lose sight of the urgent need to reduce new infections, especially among the most vulnerable group young women and girls," said Dean Hirsch , President of World Vision International. "School feeding offers them both education and the chance to learn how best to protect themselves from HIV/AIDS."
In 2003, WFP - along with World Vision and several partners around the globe - provided a nutritious daily school meal to 15.2 million children in 69 countries.
Women and girls are being infected with HIV in greater numbers than men, increasingly bearing the brunt of HIV/AIDS and this is particularly true among adolescent females. According to UNAIDS, in Sub-Saharan Africa, three quarters of all 15-24 year olds living with HIV are women.
By doubling the number of children reached in school feeding, the two agencies could contribute to reducing the number of new HIV infections, while at the same time make a giant step towards the eventual aim of helping 100 million poor hungry children go to school.
It costs just 19 US cents per day to feed a child at school in most parts of the world. Studies show that providing meals in school increases the number of children who enroll, ensures they attend more regularly and improves their ability to concentrate and learn. This creates opportunities to enhance HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention as well empowering girls so that they have more control over their sexual lives and their future.
In areas of extreme poverty and high HIV prevalence, overstretched families who are forced to spend their increasingly scarce resources on health care, find it difficult to keep their children in class, unless they have the incentive of school meals and take home rations.
"We are calling for additional funds from major donors for school feeding because it is remarkably effective; it is cheaper to protect children now rather than treat adults later," said Hirsch, adding: "There's also a moral imperative to act."
"School feeding is only one component in tackling HIV/AIDS, but it is key in the fight against the pandemic," said Morris. "We already have proof that it works. Governments and communities recognise this. What's lacking is sufficient investment and commitment to make a major difference."
Video footage of activities undertaken by WFP & World Vision to assist people affected by HIV/AIDS is available from email@example.com; photo stills can be obtained from firstname.lastname@example.org
World Vision is an international Christian relief and development organisation working to promote the well being of all people especially children. In 2003, World Vision offered material, emotional, social and spiritual support to 100 million people in 99 countries.
WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency: in 2003 we gave food aid to a record 104 million people in 81 countries, including 56 million hungry children.
WFP Global School Feeding Campaign For just 19 US cents a day, you can help WFP give children in poor countries a healthy meal at school -- a gift of hope for a brighter future.
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