[ASC-media] Media release: stopping the African AIDS epidemic

JCA Media jca.media at starclass.com.au
Tue Aug 15 01:06:38 CEST 2006

International Association of Agricultural Economists 26th Conference
Gold Coast Convention Centre, Qld, Australia
August 12-18, 2006	   ph 07 5504 4057


AIDS: Home truths and African legends

Local education and empowerment in developing countries may be the only way of stopping the HIV/AIDS epidemic in its tracks, says the World Bank's Dr Hans Binswanger.

Dr Binswanger says that he is 'cautiously optimistic' about issues of food production, agriculture and the environment in developing countries.

But on the issue of HIV/AIDS, he is deeply pessimistic, and after a comprehensive review of HIV/AIDS research programs, he has come to some surprising conclusions.

Dr Binswanger, a Fellow of the Tswane University of Technology in South Africa, was addressing the International Association of Agricultural Economics conference on Australia's Gold Coast  on HIV/AIDS and agriculture.

 "Good nutrition and a reasonable living standard play surprisingly little part in offsetting the spread of HIV," he says. "In fact, in many African countries, improved social status is directly correlated with a greater risk of infection.

"Surprisingly, even the use of condoms is statistically related to increased rates of infection. This is not because condoms are ineffective - they are the best prevention short of abstinence - but the use of condoms is associated with multiple sexual partners and therefore increased exposure to the virus," he says.

Dr Binswanger says that HIV/AIDS researchers have suggested that improved nutrition might correlate to a lower rate of infection, and an improved life expectancy after infection.

"This hopeful myth does not bear examination," he says. "Direct comparison shows that the survival rate in Africa is only two years shorter than in developed countries, and that parasitic diseases like malaria, herpes, and worm infestation are responsible for a higher mortality rate.

"The one area where nutrition may play a significant role is in mother-to-child transmission, particularly if there is improved vitamin intake during pregnancy, but the evidence is not strong."

Dr Binswanger says that high-risk behaviour and a culture of early sexual activity are far more significant than income and nutritional standards. 

"Surprisingly, social status is associated with higher probability of HIV infection," he says. "For men, household assets, education and type of work are less important than the protective effects of circumcision. And all the socio-economic variables suggest that higher status is associated with higher risk."

Socio-economic status is likely to correlated with better nutrition and lower prevalence of other infections. It is therefore unlikely, according to Dr Binswanger, that poor nutrition per se has a strong impact on risk of infection.

Dr Binswanger says that there are some indications that food and nutrition can influence survival rates in the absence of anti-retroviral (ART) drugs, and can prolong the period of relative health between infection and the onset of the disease. A study in Tanzania has shown that multivitamin supplements provide an effective low-cost means of delaying ART in HIV-infected women.

"HIV/AIDS is the single most important threat to human life in Sub-Saharan Africa," says Dr Binswanger. "Life expectancy has plummeted to levels not seen for three-quarters of a century.

"It is hard to see how rural and agricultural development can thrive unless the epidemic is stopped in its tracks," he says. 

"This can be done," he says. "It will take systematic prevention, and free and universal access to HIV/AIDS treatment. And the impacts on the huge numbers of orphans can be mitigated by better social programs."

Dr Binswanger describes a 'learning by doing' community prevention program developed in Burkina Faso. The program selects a few members of the community for intensive training in reproductive health and family needs assessment. These members assist the chronically ill, orphans, and the families which take care of them, and act as a conduit between communities and local authorities.

The International Association of Agricultural Economists (IAAE) 26th Annual Conference on "The Contribution of Agricultural Economics to Critical Policy Issues" is at the Gold Coast Convention Centre, Qld, from August 12-18, 2006.

More information:
IAAE media centre, Gold Coast Convention Centre, +61 (0)7 5504 4057
Dr Hans Binswanger, Tswane University of Technology, +27 827 568 351
Media contact: Prof. Julian Cribb, 0418 639245

Conference program & details:

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