Thursday, April 19, 2012
A Guest Post on Environmental Health Factors Impacting HIV/AIDS By Jocelyn Salada
Environmental Health Factors Impacting HIV/AIDS
By Jocelyn Salada
Since the human-immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) were first recognized by global health organizations in the early 1980s, the disease has cut a swath through much of the impoverished world. Sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe and urban centers worldwide have all witnessed significant rates of HIV infection and AIDS-related death. Recently, experts have noted the strong link between regions where HIV/AIDS is rampant and the environmental health science factors specific to those areas.
Climate plays a crucial role in the dynamic between HIV/AIDS and the general population. Worldwide medical experts agree that a nutritious diet is fundamental for an infected patient; the proper balance of protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and other essential nutrients effectively builds the patient’s immune system and counteracts the disease. However, in many parts of the world, agricultural growth is hampered by extreme weather patterns—and thus, local populations may not have access to the food they need. In her article, “HIV/AIDS in Africa: Fertile Terrain,” Eileen Stillwagon, an Economics professor at Gettysburg College, notes that malnutrition increases the risk of many common childhood and adult diseases, such as measles, diarrhea, malaria and respiratory infections. Many of these conditions are commonplace in HIV/AIDS hot zones; unsafe drinking water, air pollution and other factors related to poverty are often named as the root cause(s).
Thanks to the advent of anti-retro viral (ARV) medications, HIV/AIDS is no longer a death sentence, but a treatable chronic illness. However, Steve Humphreys of The Earth Times notes that many infected citizens are unable to acquire the necessary ARV drugs, due to low finances and lack of access to proper clinics in rural areas. As a result, AIDS-related casualties in some Third World countries are so high that the work force has been disproportioned, leading to food shortages, poor productivity and supply chain issues. “When rural families leave or are no longer able to work the fields, land becomes ever more degraded and unproductive,” Humphreys writes. He adds that some companies in Africa and South America provide their employees with complimentary condoms and protective measures to keep their employees HIV-free. However, global health experts agree that the cyclical relationship between HIV infection rates/AIDS-related deaths and poor local environmental health has complicated the search for long-term solutions—especially considering that most of the problem areas have poor local economies.
Notably, significant progress has been made in the fight against HIV/AIDS over the years. However, complete eradication will not take place until every community in the world has the resources—and manpower—to sustain itself. For this reason, HIV/AIDS, global poverty and environmental health are all deeply interconnected.