Kenyan researcher links climate change and HIV

A Kenyan researcher has offered a scholarly work that seeks to link climate change and the scourge that still baffles the world despite technological and innovation advancements.

According to Pamela Kaithuru, the author of the book “Climate Changes” sets out to demonstrate that there is a link between climate change, HIV and AIDS management, noting the importance of inclusive approach to interventions considering the burden the disease has on the economy of a country that manifest on vulnerability and susceptibility of individuals as well as poor communities.

Kaithuru says the World Health Organisation (WHO) first linked climate variabilities to health early 2000 noting that the extreme high air temperatures contribute directly to deaths from cardiovascular and respiratory disease, particularly among elderly people.

In addition, the WHO work showed climatic conditions strongly affect water-borne diseases and diseases transmitted through insects, snails or other cold blooded animals. “Changes in climate are likely to lengthen the transmission seasons of important vector-borne diseases and to alter their geographic range”.

The WHO notes that Climate change affects the social and environmental determinants of health – clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter. Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250 000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress.

However, Ms Kaithuru connects changing climatic conditions, its impact on food productivity and human behavior that can perpetuate HIV infections despite numerous amounts of resources spent to counter the scourge.

According to the National AIDS Control Council, the HIV Prevalence rates in Kenya varies from 1.4% to 27% and close to 1.6 million live with the virus, with majority being in the age group of 15-49.

Kaithuru suggests that research needs to go beyond the usual to establish linkages between the changes in climate and the continued infection of HIV on this economically active age bracket.

She notes that there is evidence of increasing loss of livelihoods due to climate-related emergencies and or disasters which put individuals at risk of transactional sex risking infections or disease progression, e.g. the fish-for – sex phenomenon.

“A farmer who losses their crop or livestock to drought of floods  may be unable to provide education and other basic needs which leads to children dropping out of school, resulting to adolescents and young people adopting risk sexual behaviors even at very young age including sex work. Worse, they may stray to seek solace and consolation in drug use which also puts them at risk of HIV,” says Kaithuru.

Ms Kaithuru

Besides, she adds, a person with reduced immunity, a characteristic of people living with HIV, risk frequent attacks of climate-sensitive diseases such as pneumonia, bronchial infections, diarrhea and hence faster disease progression that usually ends with AIDS and increased mortality.

There are resultant vulnerabilities due to internal displacements due to floods and droughts for internal and external refugees who may transact sex for survival in their new settlements after displacement.

The challenge of food insecurity and water scarcity puts individuals (more so the elderly, women and orphans) at a disadvantage of adhering to medication (ARVs) when they are not able to afford a simple balanced diet further worsening their health.

There is increasing poverty levels due to loss of agri-based enterprises ( farming, small scale traders etc) due to poor yields which puts persons at risk of resulting to transactional sex, besides the psychological effects that may fuel conflicts, lead to family dysfunctions and hence more vulnerable populations.

The book seeks to advise the governments, more so in Sub-Saharan Africa, to build capacity in the national health systems and integrate health hazards caused by natural hazards in planning. Ms Kaithuru says that the public health educations campaigns messages of climate change and their impacts on health need to be taken into consideration.

In the light of climate change, ‘governments need to initiate and set national (regional) goals to increase quality and years of healthy life and eliminate health disparities in its population (minorities, people of low socio-economic status, disabilities, and refugees)’.

Ms Kaithuru urges players in all socio-economic sectors, to empower all their stakeholders with climate information and engage  in climate change interventions, with special consideration of the vulnerable communities hence influence the ‘AIDS’ business in Sub-Saharan Africa which bears the biggest burden of HIV globally besides the adverse impacts of climate change.


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