Continuing Medical Education

The HIV/AIDS epidemic in South Africa: Convergence with tuberculosis, socioecological vulnerability, and climate change patterns

A Abayomi, M N Cowan


Recent assessment reports suggest that climate change patterns are threatening social and ecological vulnerability and resilience, with the strong potential of negatively affecting human health. Persons living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) have weakened physiological responses and are immunologically vulnerable to pathogens and stressors in their environment, putting them at a health disadvantage in climate-based rising temperatures, water scarcity, air pollution, potential water- and vector-borne disease outbreaks, and habitat redistributions. These climatic aberrations may lead to increased surface drying and decreased availability of arable land, threatening food/nutrition security and sanitary water practices. Coupled with HIV/AIDS, climate change threatens ecological biodiversity via a larger-scale socioeconomic recourse to natural resources. Corresponding human and environmental activity shape conditions conducive to exacerbating high rates of HIV/AIDS. In South Africa, this epidemic is forming a ‘syndemic’ with tuberculosis (TB), which has come to include multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) and extremely drug-resistant TB (XDR-TB) strains. Because of high convergence rates, one epidemic cannot be addressed without understanding the other. Concurrent climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies are becoming increasingly important to curb changes that negatively affect the biospheres on which civilisation is ultimately dependent – from an agricultural, a developmental, and especially a health standpoint. Mitigation strategies such as reducing carbon emissions are essential, but may be only partially effective in slowing the rate of surface warming. However, global climate assessments assert that these are not sufficient to halt climate change patterns. The roles of regionally specific climate research, socioecologically sustainable industrialisation paths for developing countries, and adoption of health system strengthening strategies are therefore vital.


Authors' affiliations

A Abayomi, Division of Haematology, Department of Pathology, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University, and National Health Laboratory Service, Tygerberg Hospital, Cape Town, South Africa; and Margo Lutzi MAMIE Foundation, Registered Humanitarian and Environmental Non-Governmental Organisation, Ibadan, Nigeria

M N Cowan, Department of Biology, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia, USA

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HIV/AIDS; TB; Climate change

Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2014;104(8):583. DOI:10.7196/SAMJ.8645

Article History

Date submitted: 2014-07-06
Date published: 2014-07-09

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