In her book, AIDS and the Ecology of Poverty, Eileen Stillwaggon asserts that “Global AIDS policy has failed to stem the epidemic spread of HIV’ because the current policy attempts to stop HIV transmission at the last possible moment, instead of grappling with the underlying causes of the epidemic.” HIV is a global pariah, and while it does not discriminate based on color or creed, some 90% of victims come from the developing world. Its prevalence in subaltern societies is linked to the fact that people who are economically disadvantaged are more susceptible to infectious diseases, such as HIV and other maladies found predominantly in the developing world.
Stuart Gillespie, a senior research fellow with the International Food Policy Research Institute, connects the rise of global food crisis to the AIDS epidemic. As politicians and economists continue to discuss the implications of the current economic meltdown, and the looming recession that is expected to worsen in the coming months, what is not often discussed is how the liquidity crisis plaguing Western financial institutions will put further upward pressure on food prices around the world and specifically, in the developing world. Gillespie notes that there is no one singe factor that has caused the current crisis. Several months ago, Professor Dave Balaam from the University of Puget Sound, whose area of interest is in agricultural policy, came on the Melon to discuss the factors that have contributed to the food crisis.=
According to the World Food Programme, the majority of ‘high-risk countries’, meaning those countries that are in most need of the food aid, are in Sub-Saharan Africa, which, not coincidentally, is also the region with some of the highest HIV rates in the world. The link between poverty and HIV seems pretty clear.
Here are Gilliespie’s main conclusions:
- Sudden increases in food insecurity often lead to distress migration as people search for work and food. Mobility is a marker of enhanced risk of HIV exposure, both for the person moving, and for other adults who may remain at home.
- Food insecurity at the household level is likely to translate over time into higher rates of adult malnutrition with possible detrimental effects on immune status.
- Where food insecurity translates into increased rates of maternal malnutrition, we can expect to see a rise in babies born with low birth weight, who in turn may be at higher risk of vertical (mother to child) HIV transmission.
Certainly, HIV and food insecurity are closely related to one another, and while poverty makes the effects of HIV more pronounced and HIV destroys a countries workforce, which worsens poverty levels. What is clear is that there is a vicious cycle between the two. But while billions are going into the developing world in order to treat and curtail the spread of HIV, very little is going towards one of the main risk factors: poverty. Once credit markets are restored, which most economics do not see happening in the near future, the focus should turn to poverty. It is only through fighting poverty that the billions spent on AIDS research each year will happen a tenable impact on global health in the world.