Behind the Scenes : Socio-economic drivers of AIDS

By Zoya Patel, YWCA of Australia. Zoya recently attended the 20th International AIDs Conference, in Melborne, Australia

On the first full day of AIDS 2014, Marcie, Victoria and I made our way to one of the huge plenary theatres to hear from a group of leading researchers on the topic of ‘Behind the Scenes : Socio-economic drivers’.

We heard from five researchers about economic factors that impact on the vulnerability towards HIV infection amongst particular groups in South Africa, Malawi, Haiti, Greece and Australia.zoya

Franzeska Mienck started the session by outlining her research into the correlation between child abuse and lower social outcomes for children living in households affected by AIDS, and how those factors interact with poverty and disability. The study found that children from families with someone living with HIV are at a higher risk of physical, emotional and sexual abuse, and that these factors were further exacerbated by poverty.

P. E. Stevens discussed the SAGE4Health pilot project that trialled methods of building economic resilience in local communities, to help reduce the impact of emergency situations on a family’s financial status, which can in turn lead to systemic poverty in community groups. People living in poverty have lower health outcomes as compared to the general population, and the programme by SAGE4Health was successful in terms of financial empowerment for the communities who participated.

Stevens’ findings correlated somewhat with Carmen Logie’s research from Haiti, which emphasised the impact of economic instability and poverty on the contraction of HIV, as people are more willing to take risks with their health through unprotected sex, or drug use when in situations of poverty and homelessness.

George Nikolopoulos shared his findings from Greece, where the rates of HIV contracted by injecting drug users rose significantly in correlation with what he labelled ‘Big Events’, such as massive economic and political crises.

Finally, Lance Feeney discussed the importance of reducing or eliminating ‘co-payments’ for Antiretroviral drugs (ARTs) in Australia, to reduce the economic impact of treatment on clients who may not be able to afford the medication.

From this session, it is clear that reducing rates of HIV is not limited to medical and scientific research only, but that broader social and economic policies impact on the contraction of HIV in communities already struggling with poverty.

When individuals are driven to unprotected transactional sex in return for food, or money their risk of contracting HIV is greatly enhanced. All of the researchers present emphasised the need for a holistic approach to ending the pandemic, with a joint focus on physical health, medical solutions, social outcomes and empowering people from lower socio-economic demographics to enhance their financial resilience.

We left the session with a strong sense of the impact of poverty on people living with HIV, and a renewed interest in building capacity and strength in communities to end poverty, and with it, reduce rates of HIV in communities that are most affected.

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