AIDS is becoming a
greater threat in rural areas than in cities of the
developing world, contrary to conventional wisdom. Growing
links between rural and urban areas through trade, migration
and improved transportation networks have made HIV
prevalence rates rise faster in rural areas. This fact sheet
summarizes some major findings about this devastating trend,
using data for sub-Saharan Africa, home to the most-affected
countries. The main conclusions apply to other developing
countries as well.
65-year-old Malawian woman with six of her nine
grandchildren, whose parents have died of AIDS
AIDS is mostly a rural
- More than two thirds of the population of the 25
most-affected African countries live in rural areas.
- Information and health services are less available in
rural areas than in cities. Rural people are therefore
less likely to know how to protect themselves from HIV
and, if they fall ill, less likely to get care.
- Costs of HIV/AIDS are largely borne by rural
communities as HIV-infected urban dwellers of rural
origin often return to their communities when they fall
- HIV/AIDS disproportionately affects economic sectors
such as agriculture, transportation and mining that have
large numbers of mobile or migratory workers.
AIDS undermines the
sustainability of development
- People are dying before they can pass on knowledge
and expertise to the next generation. A study in Kenya
showed that only 7 percent of agricultural households
headed by orphans had adequate knowledge of agricultural
- In Kenya's Ministry of Agriculture, 58 percent of all
staff deaths are caused by AIDS, and in Malawi's Ministry
of Agriculture and Irrigation at least 16 percent of the
staff are living with the disease. One study found that
up to 50 percent of agricultural extension staff time was
lost through HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa.
- In the first ten months of 1998, Zambia lost 1 300
teachers to AIDS -- the equivalent of around two thirds
of all new teachers trained annually.
- The sale of productive resources to care for the sick
and pay for funerals diverts funds away from long-term
AIDS threatens food
- The loss of productive members of society is severely
affecting household capacity to produce and buy
- Fostering AIDS orphans or hosting and caring for sick
relatives reduces the amount of food available for each
- Evidence from Namibia shows widespread sale and
slaughter of livestock to support the sick and provide
food for mourners at funerals. This jeopardizes the
livestock industry and longer-term food security and
agriculture because of its toll on the labour
- AIDS has killed around 7 million agricultural workers
since 1985 in the 25 hardest-hit countries in Africa. It
could kill 16 million more before 2020.
- More than a third of the gross national product of
the most-affected countries comes from agriculture.
- In contrast to other diseases, AIDS mostly devastates
the productive age group -- people between 15 and 50
- Up to 25 percent of the agricultural labour force
could be lost in countries of sub-Saharan Africa by
- AIDS reduces productivity as people become ill and
die and others spend time caring for the sick, mourning
and attending funerals. The result is severe labour
shortages for both farm and domestic work.
- Labour-intensive farming systems with a low level of
mechanization and agricultural input are particularly
vulnerable to AIDS.
AIDS affects women
Zimbabwean woman with AIDS sits on the ground in
her village. She lives with her mother-in-law, who
cares for her.
- Women whose husbands are migrant workers are
especially vulnerable to AIDS, as their spouses may have
other sexual partners. The women themselves may engage in
commercial sex in periods of economic stress.
- Some of the traditional mechanisms to ensure widows'
access to land contribute to the spread of AIDS -- for
example, levirate, the custom that obliges a man to marry
his brother's widow. Unfortunately, initiatives to stop
these practices may leave widows without access to land
- Biological and social factors make women more
vulnerable to AIDS, especially in adolescence and youth.
In many places HIV infection has been found to be three
to five times higher in young women than in young
- In several countries, studies have found that rural
women whose husbands had died of AIDS were forced to
engage in commercial sex to survive because they had no
legal rights to their husband's property.
For more information please contact Marcela
Villarreal, FAO's focal point for HIV/AIDS