Effects on the environment not clear
The effects of the HIV and AIDS pandemic are accelerating in South Africa. There is agreement that it will slow the rate of population growth and also reduce growth in gross domestic product, but estimates of the rates of decline vary.
The effects of HIV and AIDS on the environment are not clear. Escalating dependency on and exploitation of natural resources by marginalized poor communities (with increased numbers of orphans and single parent families, loss of ability to work, and lower productivity) are cause for concern. Furthermore, the loss of skills in critical cohorts of the working population – the 20–45 year olds – may have adverse economic consequences, which could indirectly lead to environmental degradation. The links between HIV and AIDS and environmental health are more evident. People living with HIV and AIDS may be more susceptible to environmental hazards such as respiratory infections.
Belated recognition by society of the risks of the disease, as well as inadequate mobilization of mitigation and adaptation strategies by the state, have exacerbated the risks to the country. This said, South Africa’s HIV and AIDS treatment programme is today one of the biggest in the world with over 200 000 citizens receiving ARV medicines through public and private health care facilities. Significant advances have also been made in promoting HIV and AIDS awareness and behaviour change.
It is difficult for the state on its own, however, to provide adequate care, drugs, and nutrition to combat the disease, and more needs to be done across all sectors. Partnerships between government and business, communities and NGOs are therefore seen as a key element in combating the disease. In the environment sector, HIV and AIDS considerations need to be incorporated into strategies, policy, and planning. More generally, abandoning the social stigma attached to the disease is a prerequisite for more compassionate approaches and will help society as a whole to play its part in caring for those suffering from the disease.