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Roads increase the Risk of HIV

Tanzanian natives - Engineering ConstructionWe all have a lingering feeling that all the development around us actually detracts from our lifestyles and health, and that somehow, if we could all just get back to a simpler life that we might just be healthier. 

I think that is a gross oversimplification of the effects of technology on Western society, but in Africa, some of the things we take for granted are set to destroy nations, similar to the Colonialisation of North America and Australia.

Although the construction of roads in rural areas of Tanzania has boosted economic opportunity, it also could increase HIV transmission, according to a report by the Tanzania Civil Engineering Contractors Association and the African Medical and Research Foundation, IRIN/PlusNews reports.

Source: Road Construction In Tanzania Could Increase HIV Transmission, Study Says

The study bases it’s claim on a couple of issues, first and most obviously linkage of rural areas to cities:


Tanzania plans to build more than 2,000km of tarmac roads in the 2006/07 financial year, of which the relatively isolated western and southern regions will get the lion’s share.

Improving the roads and constructing bridges connects villages, which often have low HIV prevalence, to cities, which often have high HIV prevalence. Is this an acceptable risk at this stage of development in the country? 

The next front on which this battle will need to be fought is within the construction industry itself, Civil Engineers, Technicians and the road workers…

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 “As one of the most labour-intensive sectors that employs the younger and fittest members of any community in the country, it [road construction] harbours the very people that the epidemic targets,” the study commented.

“Civil engineers and technical staff lead a highly nomadic lifestyle, moving from site to site, sometimes even from one country to another. The more numerous unskilled workers tend to be recruited on site, but sometimes they too migrate from site to site and even across borders.”

There is often a “freestyle life”, fueled by boredom and alcohol in construction camps, where workers are sometimes separated from their families for long periods. Sex between traders visiting the camps and road crews with more money in their pockets than the rural communities they passed through was an inevitability.


This is a crazy problem, a direct link between modernization, development and deaths.  Education is vital, but if the risks are perceived to be low, or their quality of life is poor to start with, human nature kicks in and a gamble with death is acceptable.  Isn’t that why we speed on roads, even though we know that speeding causes fatal accidents.  The risk is somewhat acceptable, as is the risk of getting caught speeding.

The report urges the government to consider road construction workers as a vulnerable group to HIV transmission and make HIV prevention, treatment, care and support programs for them a priority.

Not a lot is said about the village women who are the likely victims from needing money or companionship and ending up with AIDS instead. On issues of sustainability there is usually little thought on health beyond the materials used or the direct effects of construction.  Although this is a terrible situation, the fact that a report has been prepared should change the way that government authorities as well as contractors, particularly international companies (if they are involved) deal with looking after the health of their workers.

Has anyone read a report like this before, that links a health issue with development of infrastructure?

Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of UrbanWorkbench.com and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada. If I post something here that you find helpful as you navigate the world of engineering, planning and building communities, that’s wonderful. But when push comes to shove: This is my personal blog. The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer.

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