To provide a new understanding of the AIDS epidemic and its implications in order to improve the responses from governments and the development community.
The paper briefly describes the AIDS epidemic as it relates to development and to rural development in particular, and analyses these interactions from a systems perspective, inspired by the viable systems model approach.
The paper concludes that HIV/AIDS poses a clear threat to the viability of the societies where the prevalence rates exceed a certain threshold (determined by agro‐ecological and other contextual and organisational characteristics). It shows that in order to be effective, the AIDS epidemic needs a systemic response, involving all development sectors and that responses that involve only the health sector cannot address the systemic nature of the damage the epidemic creates, once the prevalence rates go beyond the said threshold.
An understanding that the epidemic may render societies non viable may move decision makers more decisively to action and an understanding of the systemic nature of the response needed may prompt an adequate organisation of this action.
The paper analyses the AIDS epidemic in an innovative way, contributing to the understanding of its dynamics and implications as well as to the means of addressing them. The paper is useful for policy makers, government officials and development planners to be aware of these and to take them into consideration in the design/implementation of policies, programmes and projects. It should also be of value to academics who wish to deepen their understanding of the epidemic.
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