Fishing communities are the hidden victims of HIV/AIDS

August 22, 2015

Men and women living in fishing villages across the world have been found to be between five and ten times more vulnerable to the disease than other communities.

Their vulnerability to HIV/AIDS stems from: the amount of time spent away from home; access to cash income; poor education; the ready availability of commercial sex in fishing ports; and sub-cultures of risk-taking and hypermasculinity.

In addition, a lack of women??s rights in many fishing communities makes them more vulnerable to infection. And drug and alcohol abuse among fishermen is another contributory factor.

The fact that many fishing populations are highly mobile only compounds the problem. Fishermen, fish processors, traders and transporters ?? both men and women ?? tend to move between landing sites, local markets and fish processing factories on a daily and seasonal basis.

The shocking findings include:

Up to 20 per cent of fishing boat crews in Thailand tested HIV-positive, compared with 1.5 per cent in the general population In the Lake Victoria region of Africa, fishermen are five times more likely to die of AIDS than farmers. In the port of Sihanoukville, Cambodia, almost a fifth of fishermen are HIV-positive ?? making them the second worst affected occupational group after brothel-based sex workers.

The impact of the AIDS epidemic in Africa first became apparent in a fishing village on the Ugandan shores of Lake Victoria in 1982. But since then, the vulnerability of fishing communities to the virus has been widely overlooked. As a result, they have been left largely beyond the reach of prevention, care, treatment and mitigation efforts and death is a daily occurrence.

Dr Edward Allison and Dr Janet Seeley of UEA??s School of Development Studies have been conducting research on this topic for the last two years. This month their research forms the basis of ???Impact of HIV/AIDS on Fishing Communities??, a report commissioned by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the Department for International Development.

???The plight of fishing communities has been neglected for far too long and the consequences have been devastating,??? said Dr Allison.

???I hope this research will raise awareness not only of the impact of the HIV and AIDS epidemic on fishermen but also highlight the vulnerability of women in the fisheries sector, who make up more than 50 per cent of the workforce worldwide engaged in fishing and fish processing.???

Dr Seeley added that it is essential that fishing communities are not neglected in the ongoing efforts in many countries to make anti-retroviral therapy available to people living with HIV and AIDS.