NAIROBI, September 29 – Economic experts on Monday warned that agricultural productivity and economic development in the COMESA region had reduced by five to 15 percent as a result of high HIV/AIDS prevalence.
Investment Promotions and Private Sector Development Director Chungu Mwila said they feared the situation might get worse if urgent action is not taken.
Mr Mwila said the member states in the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA) should come up with joint programmes to promote and implement basic practices to combat the spread of the epidemic.
“It is important for COMESA member states to put issues of HIV/AIDS on their agenda because we cannot make progress if our population, our workforce is being disseminated,” he said.
He was speaking at regional HIV/AIDS conference in Nairobi themed ‘HIV/AIDS transmission, prevention and control along the major transport corridors in the region.
Most of the countries in the regional bloc come from sub-Saharan Africa, which also has the highest HIV prevalence rate in the world while AIDS is the leading cause of death with significant demographic, health, economic, human rights and political repercussions.
The conference seeks to contribute to the development of views, which are not only relevant to the AIDS crisis but also put in place interventions to mitigate the impact of the epidemic in region.
Participants at the Nairobi conference will be expected to review and harmonise, information, education and communication materials on prevention care and support which have been developed in each member state.
“The effect has been disastrous. It has adversely affected our workforce. Due to frequent illness our labour force is not as productive as it should be. We are looking at how we can reduce infections so that our population actively participates in economic development,” he added.
At the same time Mr Mwila called for more communities to take up the practice of circumcision as a way of preventing the spread of AIDS/HIV.
“Going by this basic information it is only logical that it’s something that should be extended to those communities who may not be practicing it, because we are proceeding on the basis of science,” Mr Mwila said.
Prime Minister Raila Odinga recently asked members of his ethnic group to undergo circumcision which has been proven to reduce infection rates in other countries which have had high incidences previously.
The COMESA official however argued that although the PM’s statement was supported by scientific research, it was the body’s immunity that would determines whether one gets infected or not.
“We can be bitten by the same mosquito; depending on your antibodies you may withstand malaria. It’s the same thing with HIV/AIDS. It just happens that our bodies are structured differently and we respond differently so if your immune system is weaker then you are more vulnerable to AIDS,” explained Mwila.