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Strong and continued health is a general requirement to ensuring a solid livelihood for most people. Given the particular vulnerability of many small-scale fishing communities – from economic precariousness to lack of social services – small-scale fishers are even more exposed to the vicious cycle associated with ill-health and poverty.

Ill-health and impoverishment

A key asset of most poor people is their bodies. The poorer people are, the more they depend on their bodies for physical work, and the more vulnerable their bodies are likely to be. Evidence suggests that the health and work of a household’s breadwinner is a key factor in preventing – and escaping – poverty. Diminished health – due to malnutrition, disease or accident – is thus a main determinant of impoverishment. Furthermore, there are the knock-on impacts of delayed treatment, the costs of treatment and diversion and/or loss of earnings.

Availability and access to social services in fishing communities is often below average resulting in low educational attainment and poor health conditions.

Small-scale fishers and HIV/AIDS

Although little is known about the prevalence of HIV/AIDS specifically among fishers, the fisheries sector is particularly vulnerable because of the specific characteristics of fisheries such as long periods away from home, risky and hard work, and the circumstances to which fisherfolk are frequently exposed (e.g. drug use and unsafe sex).

HIV/AIDS affects fisheries households through: increased expenditures for drugs and medicines, reduced labour availability due to death and chronic sickness of family members and some family members caring for the sick, thus lowering household incomes and increasing poverty, and also through social exclusion within their communities.

Measures needed

A number of policy actions are needed at all levels. One of the most obvious is the provision of effective health services, free or at low cost.  The International Labour Organization recently passed the “Work in Fishing Convention” (No. 188) whose objective is to ensure that fishers shall have decent conditions of work on board fishing vessels with regard to minimum requirements for work on board, conditions of service, accommodation and food, occupational safety and health protection, medical care and social security.

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