Saturday, May 19, 2007

ETHIOPIA: Flower industry needs to nip HIV in the bud

Photo: Victoria Averil/IRIN

DEBRE ZEIT, 17 May 2007 (PlusNews) - Ethiopia's flower industry is a booming business, but AIDS campaigners fear that inaction by farm owners and government, combined with a poorly educated workforce, could provide fertile ground for HIV. "I've been working here for six months and in that time I've never heard mention of HIV/AIDS," Sofanit Nigusu, 21, told IRIN/PlusNews as she carefully pruned rose cuttings in one of a huge number of commercial greenhouses at the heart of the country's flower industry. "I know it's a problem, but outside [the capital] Addis Ababa nothing is done about it."

Ethiopia's floriculture industry generates over US$20 million per year and is projected to more than double in size over the next few years. But there are growing concerns that little is being done to address the AIDS pandemic in an industry notorious for attracting a transient, uneducated workforce vulnerable to the virus.

"The problem we face is that the flower industry is an emerging industry, but growing very quickly," said Gashaw Mengistu, coordinator at the HIV/AIDS Resource Centre in Addis Ababa. "Now, the majority of workers come from nearby villages, but in the future there could be a crisis, as people are lured from around the country to work on the farms, living together in camp-like settings ... this is when conditions are ripe for the spread of the virus."

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