People forced to migrate as a result of drought may no longer have easy access to the support of family and friends or to HIV treatment, Low, the study’s lead author, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from New York.
People who lose the stability of their communities are more likely to engage in high-risk sex, acquire HIV or discontinue treatment for HIV, the study found. Widespread poverty and exposure to worsening droughts, floods and other climate risks make Africa one of the continents most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, UN disaster officials said.
Southern Africa experienced two years of an El Niño–induced regional drought — one of its worst in decades — in 2014–2015. In 2016, this resulted in food shortages and higher prices affecting almost 40-million people in the region, according to the World Food Programme.
In Lesotho more than half the population lives on less than $1.90 a day according to World Bank, and 55% grow their own food, making them particularly vulnerable to drought.
The country of 2.2-million also has the second highest rate of HIV prevalence in the world, behind nearby eSwatini (formerly Swaziland), according to the UN agency for HIV/AIDS.
Keeping girls in school
Low and her colleagues said ways of reducing HIV risk associated with climate shocks include providing easier access to medical care, distributing HIV self-testing kits and offering cash transfers to pay school fees for drought-hit families forced to migrate.
“We really need to think about the population in the long term,” Low said, noting it was vital to keep children in classrooms. “If that’s reduced every time there’s some kind of climate extreme and they have to pull their kids out of school, that is going to have really detrimental effects — not just on HIV but on all aspects of society.”