Could saving money reduce the spread of HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus? A new study finds protecting people from financial hardship may reduce their likelihood of risky behaviors that spread the virus.
Kelly Jones is an economist at the International Food Policy Research Institute.
She says lack of rainfall is usually the main reason for financial bad news in rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa. Most people there depend on agriculture to earn money.
For the study, Ms. Jones and her colleagues compared rainfall patterns over the past 10 years to HIV rates in villages in 19 African countries.
She says her research team made a surprising discovery about droughts -- the periods during which there was very little or no rainfall. They found that the more droughts an area has had recently can predict a higher level of HIV infection in the community. In fact, the number of HIV cases was 11 percent higher for every drought.
The researchers said the most likely explanation for this was that people were dealing with the crisis by trading sex for financial support. That raised their risk of HIV, the virus blamed for the disease AIDS.
Kelly Jones says the researchers looked at the groups of individuals with the highest HIV rates: women farmers and non-farming men.
"That does suggest some pairing of the women who are experiencing the income shock with the men who are least affected by that income shock."
Other research shows that drought in Africa may be linked to crime and political unrest.
Edward Miguel is an economist at the University of California at Berkeley. He was not part of the new study. But he has examined the issue.
He says the economic problems caused by drought do not just lead to social or political unrest. He says they also have a powerful effect on the health of community members.
Ms. Jones says better ways to deal with the issue could include easier methods for opening bank savings accounts and better access to credit. Another way is weather-based crop insurance system -- programs to protect farmers from crop losses. Ms. Jones adds that it is also important to urge farmers to grow more drought-tolerant crops.
She is now studying whether helping at risk women increase their savings could lower their likelihood of HIV infection.
I'm Marsha James.