Fishing communities in some developing countries have higher HIV prevalences, as well as AIDS-related illnesses and mortality rates, than other populations, primarily because of travel and a custom of trading sex for fish, according to a report released on Monday by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the SAPA/Cape Argus reports (SAPA/Cape Argus, 3/5).
The report also says that fishing communities should be a priority for HIV prevention and treatment programs. Surveys conducted since 1992 show that HIV prevalence among people in fishing communities in countries such as Cambodia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Honduras, Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand and Uganda are between four and 14 times higher than the national average prevalence for adults ages 15 to 49.
Prevalence among fishing communities is higher than rates for other mobile populations, including members of the military and truck drivers, according to available data.
According to the report, the time fishers spend working away from home, access to a daily income in an overall environment of poverty and the availability of commercial sex in many fishing ports are fueling the spread of HIV.
Exposure to waterborne diseases and malaria, poor sanitation and limited access to medical care also increase the risk of HIV transmission among fishing communities.
"Our findings show that fishing communities are much more at risk than agriculture communities," Marcela Villarreal -- FAO's focal point for HIV/AIDS and director of the organization's Gender, Equity and Rural Employment Division -- said, adding, "Any kind of profession involving migration and being away from home makes the people more vulnerable to getting infected."
In addition, some experts say that transactional sex between fishers and female fish traders is a primary transmission route in some African countries.
"Women are forced into risky sexual behavior because of lack of other means of livelihood," Villarreal said.
According to the report, HIV prevalence in fishing communities likely will continue to increase unless they are identified as being at risk.
The report also says that increased HIV prevalence is negatively affecting fishing companies' management.
"It is not only a problem of health," Villarreal said, adding, "These people depend on agriculture and fishery for their survival" (Falconi, Associated Press, 3/5).