Initiated by the International Organization for Migration (IOM)’s Regional Office for Southern Africa and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through the President’s Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) in 2009, the Ripfumelo (“believe” in xiTsonga language) program is designed to reduce HIV vulnerability among farm workers in South Africa’s Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces. The project works to develop a network of stakeholders working specifically on HIV-related issues to reduce the high incidence and impact of HIV on farm workers, their families, and communities. It aims to address individual and contextual factors that increase vulnerability to HIV amongst commercial agricultural workers. These include the mobility and migratory factors associated with the nature of the work, such as limited access to services, gender dynamics and lack of healthier recreational activities. But little is known about innovative use of information and communication technologies to help achieve the strategic goal of Ripfumelo. As the world celebrates AIDS Day, it is important to reflect on issues like this and look at ways by which ICTs can be effectively integrated into such a project to help achieve the 2015 target of “Getting to Zero” with HIV/AIDS. HIV/AIDS and Its Impact on Agriculture The adverse effects of HIV/AIDS on agriculture and rural development are manifested primarily as loss of labor supply, of on- and off-farm income and of assets. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) for example noted that, the consequences of HIV/AIDS – poverty, food insecurity, malnutrition, reduced labor force and loss of knowledge – contribute to making the rural poor more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS infection. Other studieshave identified the devastating effects of HIV/AIDS on farmers in specific and agriculture in general as;
- Reduced staff productivity through loss in human resources, absenteeism due to morbidity and funeral attendance, morbidity-related on-the-job fatigue, and staff demoralization.
- Increase in Ministerial expenditures through costs related to HIV/AIDS absenteeism, medical costs, burial costs, recruitment and replacement costs/productivity loss after training, terminal benefits, and costs incurred to protect the rights of staff members living with HIV/AIDS at the workplace.
- Increase in staff turnover
- Increase in the workload of the staff of ministries of agriculture
- Loss of knowledge, skills and experience
Using ICTs and Social Media to fight HIV/AIDS Among FarmersBy their nature, ICTs have the potential to help reduce the impact of HIV/AIDS on agriculture through effective communication strategies. ICTs are helping through treatment and prevention programs, changing attitudes and practices, and making it possible to share success and best practices.
- Access to information on HIV/AIDS by these farm workers is key to the fight against the pandemic among them. Radio and television are basic communication tools that could help disseminate information on the danger of contracting HIV/AIDS to these farm workers.
- Access to data on these individuals and their settings is also key in designing effective program for them. Information and communication technologies such as mobile phones and other hand-held devices could be used to gather instant and accurate data for the organizations involved in the project.
- ICTs and social media could be used in training and educating both the migrant workers and their hosts on HIV/AIDS.
- Information communication technologies could also be used through diagnosis and treatment support services for these migrant farm workers who have limited access to basic health services. Mobile health services and other e-medicine programs are being used for other diseases.
- Affected farm workers could be supported and encouraged through sharing of experiences and challenges by others through the use of videos and photographs.
- The Internet as a global public medium could be used to win the victims support from their governments, NGOs and other well wishers.
- Testimonies of People Living with HIV/AIDS could be documented and shared with these migrant communities during training and workshops.
- Internet websites, and social networking sites like Facebook could also be used as secondary medium in reaching out to these people.
ICTs are collaborating tools and with the goal of the Ripfumelo program to network stakeholders working on the issue, there should not be any delay in integrating these tools to reach their target. Remember “Getting to Zero” is 2015.