HIV/AIDS & Environment Linkages

Life support: Human health and the environment

In sub-Saharan Africa, HIV/AIDS is not only a health crisis, but a challenge to development, since HIV/AIDS affects nearly every dimension of social and economic life. But what is the link to the environment

Food & Livelihood Security
HIV/AIDS affected rural households are more likely to be impoverished and as a consequence rely stronger on natural resources for their livelihoods. Nature provides them with a safety net free of charge: There is indication that HIV/AIDS affected rural households rely more on wild fruits and plants to complement their diet. In addition, the collection of firewood, fruits and plants provides additional income to the family.

Traditional Medicines
The majority of rural households in Eastern Africa use traditional medicines for their health care. Some traditional medicines might have scientifically proven beneficial effects, whereas with others their medicinal effects are not yet well researched. The benefits of traditional medicines can certainly be debated – nevertheless they provide an important first health safety net.

Impact on the environment
HIV/AIDS affected households are often forced to exploit forest resources in the need of quick money to take care of the sick or compensate for losses in labour. Moreover, HIV/AIDS results in a loss of traditional knowledge and wisdom on how to manage the land sustainably. At the same time HIV/AIDS pandemic is impacting on environmental institutions as a result of increased mortality among staff. Moreover, it became clear through this project that environmental institution lack the skills to integrate HIV/AIDS into their work, and vice versa health institutions lack the skills to integrate environment effectively into their outreach programmes.

Exploring the HIV/AIDS & Environment Linkage
While there is by now some literature on the HIV/AIDS & environment linkage – little information exists from Eastern Africa. This project aimed to explore and increase the understanding on the linkage at the community level and complement our understanding with additional studies in Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.

At the community level this has resulted in some concrete community action plans – for instance in Tanzania communities requested for the district and community health and environmental committees to facilitate increased interaction and joint actions. In Uganda, Community Based Organizations have formed a small network to improve communication flow among them to improve their community activities with relation to the HIV/AIDS & environment linkages.

At the institutional level, IUCN and its partner organizations such as the International Planned Parenthood Foundation realized the need to better integrate the linkage in their own work in the first place.
A regional expert workshop of health and environment practitioners from communities, field and project staff as well as high-level representatives from environment and health organizations discussed the findings of the studies and learning workshops conducted to date, explored the linkages in more detail and came up with a) a number of general recommendations, such as the need to develop a framework on the linkages to help institutions to better implement on it and b) a number of detailed action plans which included among others the cross-institutional training or an HIV/AIDS & Environment Committee under the East African Population Health and Environment Network.