AIDS as an obstacle to economic development

It’s no secret that the HIV/AIDS epidemic has hit the world’s developing nations especially hard. In countries like Malawi, the prevalence rate of HIV is estimated at as high as 11% for those aged 15-49, with the disease claiming up to 51,000 lives each year. Despite this, essential treatment and care, including anti-retroviral drug therapy and tuberculosis medication, reaches only a small percentage of those affected. As a result, incidence and mortality rates continue to climb in many third world countries.

One of the biggest barriers to combating burden of disease in HIV/AIDS-rampant nations is undoubtedly financial. Because HIV/AIDS is as much a killer of the young as it is the elderly, the impact of the disease on the demographic make-up of a country’s population can have devastating repercussions for its economic well-being. By hitting hard the portion of the population which ordinarily makes up the bulk of the nation’s workforce, the AIDS epidemic forces inexperienced and less skilled adolescents and young adults into work. This, combined with the sick-leave regularly required so that these workers may care for ill family members, decreases productivity and generates less income not only for the individual but also for the nation as a whole. Studies by the World Health Organisation and the United Nations Development Program, amongst others, have demonstrated a clear link between a decrease in life expectancy and a decrease in gross domestic product (GDP) for countries with an HIV prevalence rate of greater than 10%.

Not only does this reduction of human capital result in lost revenue, it also dramatically diminishes the taxable population. Financial resources for healthcare, education and other public services and facilities, factors essential to the future prevention and current treatment of the disease, begin to disappear as a result. The country is eventually trapped in a cycle of infection, leading to a diminished workforce, causing a drop in GDP, which in turn greatly reduces the likelihood of costly but essential medicines reaching those in need, further contributing to high rates of prevalence and mortality.

So how do we break this cycle? The Copenhagen Consensus, a panel of experts which study the economics of welfare in the hope of presenting achievable solutions, estimated in 2002 that financial investments and spending totalling $27 billion would be enough to prevent almost 30 million new infections by 2010. That’s a lot of skilled labourers and tax-payers. With the best way to dampen the impact of HIV/AIDS on a country’s economic health being to put a stop to new infection, initiatives which raise both awareness and funds are more essential than ever, and it’s why your support and donations are vital.


Hannah Meiklejohn is an undergraduate student at Bond University, studying Biomedical Science.