Drought increases spread of HIV in Africa: report

by Trust Matsilele 0

Bad weather in Africa south of the Sahara increases the spread of HIV, this according to a study; Income Shocks and HIV in Africa, published in the Economic Journal.

“When the rains fail, farmers in rural areas often see their incomes fall dramatically and will try to make up for it however they can, including through sex work,” the report made the startling claims.

The report analysed data on more than 200,000 individuals across 19 African countries. The research team finds that by changing sexual behaviour, a year of very low rainfall can increase local infection rates by more than 10 per cent.

The report has important policy implications for fighting the spread of the epidemic.

“Existing approaches to stopping the spread of HIV—such as promoting condom use and the use of anti-retrovirals—remain critically important,” said co-author Erick Gong, an assistant professor of economics at Middlebury College.

“But our results suggest that other policy approaches could be very useful too—in particular, approaches that provide safety nets to rural households when the weather turns bad.”

Co-author Kelly Jones, research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute said the HIV epidemic remains one of the world’s greatest health challenges, with over a million new infections per year in Africa alone.

“Our results expand the menu of options for addressing the epidemic, and highlight some surprising options that are not at the forefront of people’s minds,” she added.

Marshall Burke, co-author and assistant professor of environmental earth system science at Stanford University, said the team was surprised by how strong the relationship is between recent rainfall fluctuations and local infection rates.

“As expected, the relationship is much stronger in rural areas, and particularly for women who report working in agriculture. These are the people who really suffer when the rains fail, and who are forced to turn to more desperate measures to make ends meet.”