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UN Special Envoy urges humanitarian sector to redouble efforts to tackle Mozambique's rising HIV/AIDS rate

UN SPECIAL ENVOY URGES HUMANITARIAN SECTOR TO REDOUBLE EFFORTS TO TACKLE MOZAMBIQUE'S RISING HIV/AIDS RATE

MAPUTO - The United Nations, the Government of Mozambique, and non-government organizations must strengthen efforts to tackle the country's spiraling HIV/AIDS rate before the virus exacts an irreversible toll, warned James T. Morris, the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Humanitarian Needs in Southern Africa.

"It is disturbing that despite all our best efforts, HIV/AIDS prevalence rates continue to grow," Morris said. "We have a unique opportunity to learn from the experience of countries with high rates of infection in other southern African countries, and halt the spread of this virus in Mozambique, particularly among young people and children, before it reaches even more devastating levels. But we all must pull together now to achieve this."

The average adult HIV/AIDS rate in Mozambique is estimated to be 13.6 percent, with some provincial rates rising to nearly 27 percent. About 500 new infections are recorded each day and 50 percent of these are people, mostly women, aged 25 or younger.

Morris, who is accompanied by mission members from eight UN agencies, is reviewing how the UN system and the international community can more effectively assist Mozambique's most vulnerable people in battling the effects of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, food insecurity, and the weakened capacity for human resources.

There are currently about 1.3 million orphans in Mozambique, of which about 370,000 have lost one or both parents to the virus. By 2010, it is expected that there will be nearly 1.8 million orphans, of which more than half will have lost one or both parents to HIV.

In addition, the UN has undertaken to support the country's rollout of anti-retroviral drugs and ensure equal access of children orphaned or made vulnerable by AIDS to basic social services. Already, the UN supports more than 255,000 school children in Mozambique through feeding, education, and health programmes.

The United Nations has started a multi-sectoral response to support government efforts to contain the effects of the virus by ensuring orphans have access to adequate healthcare, sanitation, shelter and education. Currently, some 60,000 orphans in three provinces have been registered and there are plans to identify orphans in all 11 Mozambique provinces.

"Mozambique is an excellent example of how the government and humanitarian agencies have been working together to avoid creating parallel structures and ensure efforts are sustainable for the longer-term," Morris said. "It is also critical that financial resources for these projects are made available to ensure these initiatives have the capacity to reach all people who need assistance."

The UN in Mozambique is also at the forefront of trying to mitigate the effects of recurring natural disasters such as cyclones and floods. In 2000, the worst floods in the country's recent history left 200,000 hectares of agricultural land destroyed and more than 650,000 people stranded in food insecure areas. By building dams, developing irrigation systems, rehabilitating health centers and schools, the UN is reinforcing infrastructure and coping capacities.

During his two-day visit to Mozambique, Morris also met with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Agriculture, Ambassadors and non-government partners. The Special Envoy was impressed with the government's commitment to achieving food security, tackling the scourge of HIV/AIDS, and in particular, alleviating the effects on children. Both ministers acknowledged the crucial role partnerships with the UN and its partners have in achieving humanitarian goals.

The confluence of chronic poverty, HIV/AIDS, and regular disruptions to food security caused by erratic weather and policies has plagued Mozambique for the last few years. After two-consecutive years of drought, the latest UN assessments indicate that significantly fewer people will need food assistance over the coming year, compared with 659,000 last year.

Morris arrived in Mozambique on Wednesday night from Malawi. He will also visit Swaziland and Namibia as part of his third mission to southern Africa.

Morris was appointed UN Special Envoy in July 2002, four months after he joined the UN World Food Programme as Executive Director. Mission members include representatives from FAO, OCHA, UNAIDS, UNDP, UNICEF, UNFPA, WFP, and WHO.

NOTE FOR THE MEDIA:
• A virtual tour of the Special Envoy's mission can be followed on the web; go to www.wfp.org

Nelson Xavier in Maputo
Tel: +258 1-481400 ext: 438
Cell: +258 82-3140-60

Mike Huggins
(traveling with the S. Envoy)
Cell: +27-832-913-750