The Global Pandemic: The Social and Economic Impact of AIDS

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Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is a disease that is caused due to the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), which suppresses the immune system. The first cases were diagnosed in Sub Saharan Africa in the 1980’s. It is presumed that the virus is a variant of a retrovirus found in apes that mutated to form a strand capable of affecting human beings. There are two methods of its transmission namely horizontal and vertical. Horizontal transmission is though sexual contact, transmission of blood and body fluids through infected needles used by intravenous drug addicts and blood transfusions.

Vertical transmission is the spread of the virus from a mother to a fetus through the placenta, at childbirth, and by breast feeding. After the virus enters the human body, there is a variable incubation period when the virus replicates. During this period the infected person is symptom free. The virus attacks the T-4 cells (white blood cells) that are responsible for cell mediated immunity and a constant battle wages (Amiralli W). Finally, the virus gains the upper hand and the immune system is severely depressed. A number of symptoms arise including fever, chronic skin infections, shingles (herpes zoster), chronic diarrhoea, weight loss, and glandular swelling in the neck, armpits, and groin regions.

This stage is termed ARC, which is Aids Related Complex. With a further decline in immunity the full blown AIDS pictures develops characterized by opportunistic infections, like Pneumocystic Cariniia Pneumonia, Tuberculosis, and crypto coccal Meningitis, Candida. Finally, the patient succumbs to the disease and AIDS related malignancies arise such as KS (Kaposi’s sarcoma). Eventually the patient succumbs to the disease and it is fatal. It is important to find a solution to the AIDS pandemic as it is spreading at an exponential rate (Amiralli, H). According to WHO statistics it is estimated that since the start of the epidemic, HIV has infected almost 58 million men, women and children and AIDS has cost the lives of nearly 22 million adults and children. (Amiralli) Today HIV continues to spread, causing more than 15,000 new infections every day, 95% of which are in the developing world (especially sub-Saharan Africa) (WHO).

AIDS is the leading cause of death in Africa, and the fourth worldwide. The extreme loss of life leads to drastic economic and social impacts on nations worldwide, making it imperative to control the disease (Kwesigabo). The map below shows a spread of the disease over time in the United Kingdom and it clearly shows drastic increase in people with Aids. The social impacts resulting from the deaths are a declining population, reduction in the working portion of the population increasing the dependency rate, and a breakdown in the family structure leaving many children as orphans.

The economic impacts are as profound with a demand for increased healthcare and education programs, an increase in the number of sex workers as a result of the death of their breadwinners, and since there will be a lack of savings the reduction in investment can lead to a reduction in the economic growth of the already impoverished countries. There are some indirect affects of Aids that lead to positive social and economic impacts. The positive social impacts are a modification of sexual behaviour and a reduction in the global population. The positive economic impacts resulting from Aids is an increase in money previously used for the elderly.

The mapping of the geography of Aids in the UK overtime. (FIG 1)

Impacts on Water Supply

In the third world clean water is very important as history has shown that disease is spread through water. Diseases like cholera and Bilharzia are spread through contaminated water. There is a limited number of water purifiers and engineers. This has a large impact on dry and arid areas where controlling excess water during the rainy season requires engineers and maintenance of wells and dams. The effects of a lack of adequate resources was recently seen in Walkerton, Ontario where a dangerous strain of the Ecoli Bacteria entered the ground water supply. Therefore the loss of even a small number of highly trained professionals can place entire water systems risk.

Economic impacts of Aids on Agriculture

Agriculture is usually the largest sector in African economies contributing to a large portion of production, a large sector of employment and therefore contributing to a large portion of the GDP. Studies have shown that AIDS will have gross effects on agriculture, including loss of the young citizens, which reduces a labour supply and reduction in income. The loss of a few workers especially at important times of planting like the coming of the monsoon rains or harvest time can lead to a low yield for the entire year.

The effects of this can be disastrous especially in countries where a steady source of food has been an issue because of drought. Declines in household production of various crops can lead to serious consequences. With a loss of agricultural labor farmers are more likely to switch to crops that requires less tending and care (refer to chart). This may lead to them switching from growing cash crops to food crops for consumption. Therefore the farmers will have a drop in their income (look at graph below) reducing the GDP extensively in some countries. This will lead to a reduction in the spending capacity of people and will lead the country into a recession.

AIDS has a significant impact on a country’s industry. AIDS-related illnesses and deaths affecting an industry’s employees can affect a firm by increasing its spending and reducing their revenues. Their expenses are increased as a result of increased health care costs, and training of replacement employees. Revenues decrease as a result of less productive work from the workers due to sick leave, absenteeism, and time spent on training. This can result in a new labor force that is inexperienced and therefore less productive(Kwesigabo Page 32). The graph below shows how Aids has increased the salaries for 3 different companies as a result of various impacts of Aids. The variability between the increase in salaries depends upon each company’s human resource’s policies and the method in which they produce their goods.

Data obtained from Research of the AIDS Economic Team, Center for International Health, Boston University

Impacts on Health

AIDS will affect the health sector of a country in two ways. It will increase the number of people seeking health services and the large amounts of monetary funds required to provide health care for AIDS patients. The number of AIDS patients seeking care is already overburdening the health care systems. In most hospitals in Africa, half of hospital beds are now occupied by AIDS patients while the other half is filled with patients with Tuberculosis which is mainly a result of HIV (WHO Statistics). AIDS is a very expensive disease. Statistics have shown that treating one AIDS patient for one year costs the same as educating ten elementary school students for one year (WHO Statistics). A healthy population is an important goal for all governments as it is fundamental in the development of a productive workforce, which is the basis for economic development. Additionally there is an increase in funeral costs, which furthers the people’s poor economic state. The graph below illustrates the increase in a family’s expenditure after Aids sets into the family.

Impacts on Transport & Mining

The transport sector is one of the major reasons for the spread of AIDS as building and maintaining transport infrastructure involves men leaving families for extended periods of time. This increases their chances of having multiple sexual partners. The people who operate transport services like truck drivers, sailors, or infantry spend many days and nights away from their families. An example of this is shown through a statistic that says that Cameroon truck drivers spend an average of 14 days away from home for each trip. It was found that 68 percent of them had sexual intercourse during the most recent trip and 25 percent had sex every night they were away (Kwesigabo pg 55).

This is a very disturbing statistic especially when we think about the importance these people play in the transport industry. The deaths of a few of these experienced workers can lead to a collapse in the transportation system in these developing countries. This scenario repeats itself in the mining industry workers are forced to live apart from their families for extended periods of time. They often resort to having sex with HIV infected prostitutes. Most of them do not use protection and contract the disease. They then spread that infection to their spouses and communities when they return home. Qualified mining supervisors can be very difficult to replace. As a result, AIDS epidemic can seriously threaten mine production.

Positive Economic Impacts

Despite the large number of negative impacts of Aids there are some indirect positive impacts of Aids. Since Aids affects a relatively young portion of the population usually what happens is that patients contribute to pension funds but die before they are able to withdraw the money. This leaves the government with a large surplus of money to spend on other social institutions. In 1999 alone, a study showed, that an average of 4.3 years in shortened life expectancy saved the Czechs $30 million of reduced costs for pensions and housing and health care for the elderly (Patrick, 889).

Negative Social Impacts

Aids has a large and extensive impacts on a social system of a country. Perhaps one of the largest institutions affected by Aids is the health institution. This is due to the large drain on resources by the disease. A recent study in Ethiopia estimated that the cost of hospital care for AIDS patients ranged from 425 to 3140 Birr during the course of the illness(CMAJ JAMC Vol. 162 Pg 83) . It was estimated that if this continues that by 2009, expenditures for AIDS care could amount to one-third of the entire budget of the Ministry of Health. This would put a considerable strain on a dwindling health system where people die of simple curable diseases. Therefore, the health needs of an entire population will be compromised as a result of the Aids pandemic. This in turn can lead to a chain reaction of impacts that can lead a country into its destruction. The graph below shows the distribution of beds in a ward over time.

The Usage of Hospital Beds (FIG 6) (Fan, 83)

It can be agreed upon that the worst social impact of Aids is the large number of orphans it leaves. Africa’s 12 million orphans (WHO statistic) are an example of the huge impact Aids has on families. Aids is a disease that targets the younger portion of the population as they are in a reproductive stage. Usually they already have children and their death could be disastrous to their offspring’s. Every day parents die as a result of Aids, leaving orphans to fend and provide for themselves. The death of adults in their reproductive and peak-earning years has had a cascade of damaging effects on children. Families must support a larger number of children, lowering income and driving the common extended family into poverty.

That, in turn, has reduced school attendance in some communities, as households are unable to pay school fees or are forced to put children to work to make money. The loss of working adults has also decreased agricultural production, in many places, with economic and nutritional effects on children. Additionally there is an increased burden on society to provide services for these children, including orphanages, health care and school fees. An inadequacy in these facilities leads to children to go without adequate health care and schooling, which leads to a chain of events increasing the burden on society for future years. It is known that the future of children begins with parents, but they are increasingly being prevented from growing up in families. If the future of the children is bleak that means that the future of the country is bleak as well.

It is assumed that if Aids, the deadly disease is eradicated we may see a large decrease in mortalities in the third world. More specifically the age group of 15-24 year olds (WHO Statistic) which has one of the highest mortality rates. This results in a reduction in the working portion of the population increasing the dependency rate. This leads to a shortage of workers, which eventually leads to higher wages, which leads to higher domestic production costs. This may affect some of the more poor people in the country as they will not be able to afford their basic needs.

As a result of the disease governments will have to spend a lot more money on their health care system. The fact that there will be a loss of worker income does not help the situation as the government will lose its source of income tax. Therefore lower government revenues and reduced private savings will cause a significant drop in savings and capital accumulation. This leads to slower employment creation and a slower development of infrastructure and eventually development will be halted.

The AIDS epidemic can have serious repercussion on education which weaves the social structure of a society. AIDS affects education as experienced teachers will be reduced by incapacitation or death due to AIDS-related illness and death. Not only will the teachers be incapacitated but children may have to stay at home to care for sick family members and to harvest the fields to support their families. Even though education is subsidised by the government in many developing countries education is still expensive and children may drop out of school if their families cannot afford school fees due to a reduced household income as a result of an AIDS mortality. As a result of puberty many teenagers can easily get infected with AIDS if they do not have the knowledge on how to protect themselves from the disease. So the education system has a duty to educate students on how to protect themselves from AIDS getting them to set aside cultural and religious norms.

Indirect Positive Affects on Society

Despite the severe effects Aids has on society it may actually impact society in a positive way as it may modify society’s very outward look at sexual behaviour that is displayed everywhere. A simple look at movies and magazines show the openness that society has towards sex. It is widely accepted that the sexual behaviour of society in the 60’s and the following decades, has resulted in a time bomb and upon explosion will lead to a deadly pandemic. It is obvious that a solution to the Aids problem would be to exercise prudence in our culture beginning with the media, which will in turn affect different branches of society. For infected person who is dying with Aids, both breakthroughs and warnings are too late but prudence could save many uninfected people especially teenagers. This will make their destiny depend less on science but more on society with more people being conservative about sex. Therefore, the fear of death may force society to be more subtle about how sex is portrayed. (David, 91)

Another positive impact of Aids in society is the impact on population size. It has been shown that Aids causes population growth to stop or become negative. The following projection illustrates this point. A projection shows that total fertility rates decline, from 7.7 to 4 by 2015 (CJCM, 99) which will provide a much needed solution to the global overpopulation issue. It is assumed that without AIDS life expectancy increases from about 54 years today to 57 by 2007 (CJCM, 99). If there were no AIDS epidemic, the total population of Ethiopia would increase from about 55 million to 86 million by 2009 (CJCM, 100).

While in Kenya the population would increase from 27.2 million in 1995 to 32 million by 2000 and to 37 million by 2005 (CJCM, 99). With a continued AIDS epidemic, the total population of Ethiopia would be 80 million by 2009 (CJCM, 100), which is 6 million smaller than the projection without Aids. Therefore, Aids actually is a form if controlling an exponentially growing population. It is clear that many countries have reached their economic and natural resource limit and if the population is not controlled the human species may become extinct proving Thomas Malthus’ prediction correct. Below is a graph showing demographics with and without the Aids epidemic.

Population Growth Projection’s with and without Aids(FIG 7)

Aids may also have a positive impact on society as methods of contraception and abstinence are emphasized to teenagers. Education is the most logical solution as a vaccine is no where in sight and with the rapid mutation of the disease education is the most viable choice. Not only will education lead to protection against Aids but it helps teenagers to make responsible choices regarding health and sexual matters. Teenagers will now be equipped with knowledge not only to protect them against Aids but to prevent Sexually Transmitted Diseases, teenage pregnancy, and drug abuse. A shocking statistic shows that 50% percent of females will have sex before turning 18 (ARCC).

Perhaps the most vital impact will be a reduction in unwanted pregnancies. With more teenagers using condoms there will be a great reduction in the number of abortions which is the cause of a large number of social problems. Sexual education may implicitly lead to the acceptance of homo sexuality into the fabrics of society. In North America Aids is mainly explained as a phenomenon amongst homosexuals. However, this information may be conveyed without “negative values” being taught to the young students. Although the thought of leading a homosexual lifestyle is rejected due to the spread of disease it may lead to the tolerance of homosexuals in society. Therefore it is believed that not only will sex education teach teenagers how the Aids virus is transmitted but teaches them how to handle situations dealing with sexual assault and how to cope with an STD if contracted but will teach them to tolerate homo sexuality.


It is clear that Aids has a large impact on the social and economic layers in society. Aids has brought up a number of issues that need our immediate attention. The Aid’s pandemic is spreading exponentially but a solution is not in sight. The solutions that are proposed are either tackling the problem from a social point of view or from a medical point of view. Both are viable solutions but both are not permanent solutions. The social impacts of Aids are apparent like the declining population and the breakdown in the family structure leaving many children as orphans.

The economic impacts are very devastating with a demand for increased healthcare and death of a family’s breadwinner. Upon examining the negative social and economic impacts of Aids and weighing them with the positive side effects of Aids it can be concluded that Aids overall has more of a negative impact with lasting impacts. It has lead to genocide, broken up families, and ruined economies. The Aids crisis is an issues that has to be solved soon otherwise lives will continue to be lost and countries will be unable to develop.

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