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1. Introduction

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is a massive development challenge of global proportions facing human societies. The impact of the HIV/AIDS epidemic on both national development and household economies has compounded a whole range of challenges surrounding poverty and inequality. Louwenson and Whiteside have summarised the devastating implications of HIV/AIDS for poverty reduction in a paper prepared for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP):

“The devastation caused by HIV/AIDS is unique because it is depriving families, communities and entire nations of their young and most productive people. The epidemic is deepening poverty, reversing human development achievements, worsening gender inequalities, eroding the ability of governments to maintain essential services, reducing labour productivity and supply, and putting a brake on economic growth. The worsening conditions in turn make people and households even more at risk of, or vulnerable to, the epidemic, and sabotages global and national efforts to improve access to treatment and care. This cycle must be broken to ensure a sustainable solution to the HIV/AIDS crisis” (2001: 4).

Although intensifying responses to the epidemic have focused on prevention and care, these have tended to ignore the broader picture of the implications for development and poverty reduction (Collins and Rau, 2001; Louwenson and Whiteside, 2001). Discussions amongst development practitioners and policy makers have therefore been limited and numbers of policies and goals, including the United Nations Millennium Declaration Goals, have failed to take into account the added challenges resulting from sharp increases in AIDS related mortality rates.

At national and local levels, new social science research, closely linked with the needs of policy makers and advocates, is urgently required on the progress of the epidemic in specific circumstances. The mitigation of the impact of the epidemic on social and economic developments by intensifying national poverty reduction efforts and providing support for those particularly affected requires detailed understanding to be effective. It is therefore increasingly important to know who is affected, why and how; and to devise ways to lessen the vulnerability of particular groups. Although significant efforts have been made to document the social and economic impact of HIV/AIDS in some regions and communities, as clearly illustrated by the depth of information available in this paper, an enormous amount remains to be done.

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