Experts declare HIV the “Disease of Poverty”

Morgan Zajkowski, VGIF UN Representative

According to the panel that included experts from UN AIDS and groups dedicated to HIV/AIDS research internationally, recent research showed that HIV is the disease of poverty. Such studies demonstrate that individuals that live in impoverished areas are more likely to contract the disease for a variety of reasons.

The higher contraction rate is due to factors such as access to accurate health information, HIV prevention information, and lack of access to sexual protection/prevention commodities such as condoms or clean needles, as well as general health care. However, the perpetuation of the disease in these communities in particular is not solely related to health. Lack of access to education, job training and employment opportunities often encourages impoverished individuals to engage in high-risk behaviors such as drug use and transactional sex.

Women are especially affected by HIV because they are often forced into prostitution as a means of supplementing family revenue after a job loss or to support growing health bills. Vivat International cited an example of a three orphaned girls who were forced into prostitution by their family members after their parents died of HIV. If women are also infected, such behaviors can also pass on the disease to other individuals.

While these effects can be seen around the world in small communities, the causes also stem from global issues. In the midst of the current economic crisis, funding for HIV/AIDS research and support has decreased significantly, especially because the majority of donations come from individual contributions. UN AIDS estimates that 11 to 12 billion dollars is need to reach the Millennium Development Goal to cure the disease by 2015. However, there seems to only be 8 billion available both from donors and investments by governments.

This funding gap says something about the global response that society has had to the epidemic. Instead of relying on donor initiatives, some say that countries need to start taking responsibility for their own populations that are plagued by HIV/AIDS. One solution that has been suggested is to initiate a currency transaction fee in which the funds generated are donated to the AIDS response initiative.

But in regards to the connection to poverty, suggestions of a human rights-based approach, focusing on the quality of life rather than the amount of donations, seem more appropriate. This would entail funding issues such as nutrition, housing, job security and education. Such an approach would not only address issues that contribute to the perpetuation of HIV, but also address some of the effects that arise for families after diagnosis. Other than degenerative health, individuals infected with HIV experience job loss, extreme expenditures, increased responsibilities for women, and children are often needed to work or are married off, and frequently orphaned.

In order to meet the Millennium Development Goal for eradicating HIV/AIDS by 2015, the need for creative solutions is quite pressing. Targeting impoverished populations with a rights-based approach, as well as engaging the help of the individuals, especially women, who are infected will be necessary in the strategy.

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