HIV/AIDS is increasingly becoming a critical development issue in Africa, with far-reaching implications in a variety of arenas beyond health, including social, political, and environmental. As Vogel (2002) states (emphasis added): “Alongside poverty, population and climate change, AIDS is one of the great problems of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, and primarily affects the developing world.” Nowhere is this more evident than in sub-Saharan Africa, where average life expectancy is reaching an all-time low due to AIDS (Pilgram & Kees 2002). Once a mainly urban phenomenon, AIDS has become a “formidable social problem” in rural sub-Saharan Africa, with major implications for rural development (Rugalema & Khanye 2002; Hargreaves & Pronyk 2003). The impacts of AIDS at the household level include changing household size, composition, and income. Many rural households are dependent on remittances from employed migrant family members, and illness and death of breadwinners thus has major impacts on rural households with few other potential sources of income (Rugalema & Khanye 2002; Hargreaves & Pronyk 2003).
Morbidity or mortality of a household member may also result in the necessary development of a variety of coping strategies, such as divesting family assets, spending savings, and withdrawing children from school (especially girls) to compensate for income loss. These strategies may be more appropriately referred to as “Response Strategies”, since AIDS impacted households which are in distress often respond by adopting irreversible strategies, indicating that they are in fact not coping (Loevinsohn & Gillespie 2003). This exacerbates the existing spiral of poverty which is so prevalent in many rural African communities.