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Climate change induced droughts fuel spread of HIV in Africa

19 Oct 2017 at 10:14hrs | Views
Antwerp, Belgium - The combination of HIV/Aids and climate change induced droughts has been a major challenge for many countries in Africa for the past decade.

Every year, some parts of the continent experience climate change induced droughts in one form or the other resulting in crop failure, shortage of clean water and livestock deaths.

"Food crisis was an extreme event but such events are becoming more frequent and the recent El Niño (in Southern Africa) brought drought or failed harvests," Prof Michael Loevinsohn of the Applied Ecology Research in Netherlands told participants at the ongoing 10th European Congress on Tropical Medicine and International Health (ECTMIH) in Antwerp, Belgium.

The ECTMIH which started on Monday this week ends on Friday. And it brings together scientists and experts from Europe and from all over the world, including many delegates from low and middle income countries.
Prof Loevinsohn said rural people in Africa where pushed further into extreme survival tactics, including exchanging sex for food.

And according to a report by the United Nations Office for the Coordination Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), during the rainy season (October 2015 to March 2016), Southern Africa experienced an El Niño-induced drought that crippled rain-fed agricultural production, which accounts for the livelihoods of most Southern Africans.

"The subsequent April 2016 harvest proved meagre, with a regional maize production shortfall of 9.3 million tons. This was the second consecutive poor rainfall season in the region, deepening vulnerabilities that are also exacerbated by a major economic downturn. The International Monetary Fund recently cut its 2016 growth forecast for South Africa, the region's economic ballast, to just 0.1 per cent," reads part of the report.

The droughts, according the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), have increased the spread of HIV.

"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," IFPRI in a report.

Prof Loevinsohn who has done a extensive research on the link between HIV and food crisis in Malawi said food or livelihood security were critical determinants of HIV and other diseases.

"Food or livelihood security is critical determinants of HIV and other diseases, not addressed by the health sector – except transiently through e.g. nutrition supplements and occasional cash transfers. Thorough-going cross sectoral collaboration needed, as the SDGs call for, to work effectively across the divide between health and food or livelihood," he said.

He said though there were 19 studies of HIV decline in southern Africa from 1998-2012, part of the decline in HIV prevalence was due to redistribution of low-prevalence people to higher risk areas, rather than reduced incidence.

In his study titled The 2001-03 Famine and the Dynamics of HIV in Malawi: A Natural Experiment published by the journal PLOS ONE, Prof Loevinsohn revealed that food security had deteriorated for many people in developing regions facing high and volatile food prices.

Without effective and equitable responses, the situation is likely to worsen due to diminishing access to land and water, competition from non-food uses of agricultural products, and the effects of climate change and variability. Understanding how this will affect the burden and distribution of major diseases such as HIV is critical," he noted  

The Malawi famine, the study revealed, appeared to have had a substantial effect on HIV's dynamics and demography.

Prof Loevinsohn discovered that poverty and inequality, commonly considered structural determinants of HIV epidemics, can change rapidly, apparently transmitting their effects with little lag.

And it emerged that epidemic patterns risk being misread if such social and economic changes were ignored.
"Many studies examining HIV prevalence declines have implicated sexual behavior change but do not appear to have adequately considered the contribution of rural-urban migration. The evidence from Malawi, which links actions that undermined people's food security to changes in the prevalence and distribution of HIV infections, suggests new opportunities for prevention," the study reveals.

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Source - Andrew Mambondiyani
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