Sept. 11, 2008

CU directs meeting at U.N. on socio-economics impact of HIV/AIDS in Africa

Globally, 33 million people suffer from HIV/AIDS, and more than two-thirds of them live in sub-Saharan Africa. They include some 1.7 million who were newly infected last year.

Large regional differences exist within Africa, however, says David E. Sahn, international professor of economics in Cornell's Division of Nutritional Sciences and Department of Economics. In eight African countries alone the number of HIV/AIDS cases exceeded 15 percent of their populations in 2005.

This crisis was discussed Sept. 9 by scholars, policymakers, practitioners and stakeholders from around the world who attended the United Nations University (UNU) Cornell Africa Series Symposium in the Dag Hammarskjöld Library Auditorium at the United Nations. They explored the complex links between HIV/AIDS in Africa and the continent's poverty, economic growth and productivity, as well as the way the disease affects reproductive and sexual health and behavior.

Organized by Sahn, the symposium gave the experts an opportunity to talk frankly about the challenges of HIV/AIDS on Africa's development needs; the short-term impact of the disease on household incomes and livelihoods and, in particular, the direct impact of HIV/AIDS on childhood health, education and nutritional well-being. Speakers discussed ways of intensifying the efforts of local governments and communities to prevent the spread of the disease. These include improving access to anti-retroviral therapies and methodological approaches to conducting research.

In his introductory remarks, Professor Patrick Stover, director of the UNU Food and Nutrition Programme and of the Division of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell, discussed the collaboration of Cornell with the UNU. Sahn led off the symposium with an overview of the problem and objectives of the meeting, and then led the first panel, which addressed the effect of HIV and anti-retroviral therapy on families, children and youth. He stressed the importance of looking at gaps in knowledge that need to be filled to better understand the continued impact of AIDS and how to improve prevention and treatment programs. Sahn is editing a book based on the conference proceedings, to be published by Cornell University Press.

The symposium was videoconferenced to allow discussion with other panels in the African cities of Addis Ababa, Lusaka and Accra.

To view the Webcast of the daylong symposium, see http://www.ony.unu.edu/webcast/.

Jennifer Wright is a freelance writer in New York City.