How does the high prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Caribbean affect the region's tourism sector?

How does the high prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Caribbean affect the region's tourism sector?


The prevalence rate for HIV in the Caribbean is considered the second highest in the world after the sub-Saharan region. The region is also considered to be a hub for tourists with more than three million tourists visiting it annually. Its economy is mainly supported by tourism accounting for up to forty percent of its gross domestic product. In addition, tourism is important in the region because it impacts not only the economy but also its ecosystem and culture. The research topic is therefore significant because it seeks to find out the level of impact HIV has on the region’s tourism sector and the broader economy. High prevalence rate of HIV may have negative impact on the region’s economy by affecting tourism which supports its economy. This study therefore seeks to explore the topic further in order to determine the impact HIV has on the region’s tourism sector.

Literature review

General presentation about poverty

Poverty has been linked to many problems facing human society. The problems center on issues such as public health, unemployment, security, lack of access to quality education among other issues. Despite being a tourist hub, the Caribbean region also faces high level of poverty. This is a common challenge faced by other regions in the world including sub Saharan Africa, Latin America, Eastern Europe and parts of Asia.

Eradication of poverty is among the 8 millennium development goals that the world seeks to achieve by 2015. Poverty is defined to be deprivation of well being and basic human rights. There are indicators that would make one to be considered poor. The indicators include hunger and inability to find food or enough food to eat, lack of shelter or proper shelter, lack of clothing, lack of access to medical care when one is sick, and illiteracy. The world development report (2001) identifies poverty to affect people in different capacities. In addition to being deprived well being and basic human rights, the society and state institutions also tend to treat poor people in a negative way. They are voiceless and powerless in the society. The report defines a broader perspective of poverty. It does not only limit poverty to deprivation of well being but also includes other aspects such as power and freedom in the society. It further describes poverty to include the exposure to risk and the vulnerability of the deprived people in the society(World Development Report 28).

All these key dimensions of poverty are important for consideration because they are linked to one another and work together to reinforce poverty or the lack of it in the society. For instance, if people are able to have access to quality medical care when they fall sick, they are advantaged to increase their potential for earning income. Similarly, if quality education is accessible to all, then the well being of people in the society is increased and they are able to enjoy good health and high income. Education impacts people’s behaviors and perception towards issues in the society thereby implying that the lack of education can be seen in the choices people make. It also impacts society by giving hope to the hopeless so that people can live with positive mind set.

Poverty still remains a major challenge for developing countries. The millennium development goal seeks to reduce extreme poverty in the developing countries by half at the end of 2015(Sumner 7). This implies that in two years time, this goal is expected to have been achieved. High growth rate of the population in developing countries is among the major causes of poverty. However, the statistics of high population growth and poverty in developing world are not even in all the regions. Some regions such as the East Asia experience high population growth but continue to have reduced level of poverty. However, poverty has been on the rise in other regions that have witnessed population explosion. Poverty rates in the Caribbean are still quite high according to figures by the world development report.

The world development report identifies a number of key sources of poverty in the world. Lack of income is the major source of poverty. In developing countries, a large percentage of people live below a dollar per day(World Development Report 3). This income is insufficient for meeting all necessary and basic human needs. In most cases, it is used only for immediate sustenance, that is, to satisfy hunger. Other human living necessities and privileges are failed to be met and thus their well being is deprived.

As a result, poverty is best eradicated through a framework of action that considers the broad dimension of poverty. Attacking poverty requires providing economic opportunities for the less fortunate in the society. It also requires empowerment whereby the capacity of the less fortunate in the society is enhanced. Security is also a concern since lack of it increases the vulnerability and exposure to risks of the less fortunate in the society.

Growth of the economy has been linked to reduction of poverty. Prahalad (111) suggests that the best people to use to eradicate poverty are the poor people. “Their resilience and perseverance must give us courage to move forward with entrepreneurial solutions to the problem. Given bold and responsible leadership from the private sector and civil society organizations, I have no doubt that the elimination of poverty and deprivation is possible by 2020. We can build a humane and just society.” (Prahalad 2010:112)

Global and Caribbean HIV outlook

HIV prevalence is the ratio of population living with HIV against those living without the disease. In regions where the condition is an epidemic, the rate of infection is at least one percent or more while in other regions where it is well managed, the rate is less than one percent of the general population. The prevalence rate can vary with countries or regions within a country. For instance, the certain regions have high prevalence rates because they are specifically at a high risk of infection. This is due to the evidence of practices that encourage infection. Region with high level of commercial sex work, the prevalence rate can exceed 5 percent. Such a rate is considered high and a lot of prevention attention needs to be focused on such a region.

According to the UNAIDS, WHO, and UNICEF, by 2010 the number of people in the world living with HIV were estimated to be around 34 million(UNAIDS 6). The newly infected were 2.7 million while the people who died out of the disease reached 1.8 million in 2010(UNAIDS 6). These figures were an increase from those published in 2009 especially the estimate of those living with the disease. In 1990, the estimated number of people living with HIV was 8 million and by the end of 2010, the figure had risen to 34 million. These statistics show the gravity of the problem and amount of effort that needs to be put towards eradicating or reducing the prevalence rate. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest prevalence with 5 percent of adult population living with the disease. It is followed by Latin America and Caribbean region with 1 percent of adult population living with the disease. East Asia has the lowest prevalence rate in the world at 0.1 percent of adult population living with the disease(Sen 45).

HIV/ AIDS has negative impact to the global economy in various ways. The major impact is reduction of human capital. Poverty is considered to be the major cause of indulgence in risky behaviors that eventually lead to infection. This explains the high prevalence rate in developing countries and regions of the world. A number of studies have linked HIV prevalence to poverty(Remero-Daza and Freidus 172). Many people in these countries fall victim and are unable to access medical care for the disease because of their low economic status. As a result, their productivity and human capital is reduced. The situation is made worse when a bread winner in a family is infected. Everyone else in the family especially children and women are left in extreme poverty. They are forced to spend money on nursing the sick family member further depriving them the ability and means of production.

The sixth Millennium development goal seeks to control the spread of HIV and malaria. HIV is among the leading killer diseases in the world. As a result, many are dying from the disease. In developing countries where prevalence rate is high it is common to find people either affected or infected in one way or another(Remero-Daza and Freidus 176). As earlier described, children have been doomed to extreme poverty as a result of losing a parental figure or bread winners to the disease. The same is the case with women. As a result, women and small girls would be forced into commercial sex trade in order to make a living. This therefore leaves a circular trend of infection which further increases the level of poverty in such regions.

Impact of poverty on global economy

The growth of the global economy has been deemed to be a strategic tool for the reduction of poverty in the world. Growth of global economy increases and enhances the quality of life especially in developing countries. Studies have recommended that if the world is to ever make fast progress towards achieving the millennium development goals, it has to focus on increasing the global economic level(World Development Report 12). Human development is improved by a strong economy. In effect, the growth of the economy is promoted. Half of the world’s poor population lives in china and India. However, India accounts for the largest percentage between the two countries. Middle income countries account for one of the remaining quarters of poor people while the other remaining quarter lives in the low income countries.

The number of poor countries or least developed countries in the world has increased over the past four decades. In 1970s there were approximately 25 countries that were extremely poor but by 2002, the figure had grown to 49 countries. As a result, the world has focused on the issue of poverty as a target for development. It specifically focuses on the idea of elimination and reduction of poverty(Sumner 9).

Impact of tourism on global economy

Tourism is among the industries that have been linked or earmarked to help reduce poverty. Research studies argue that tourism offers the perfect opportunity for least developed countries to emerge out of extreme poverty conditions(Scheyvens 231). Tourism helps by opening up countries to benefit from the positive impact of globalization. Most countries with high levels of poverty largely depend on tourism as one of the major pillars of their economies. The Caribbean region is a good example of a region that witnesses high levels of poverty but has a thriving tourism industry. According to a report by the world tourism organization, the industry is at least among the top three contributors to economic development in 50 of the world’s poorest countries(Scheyvens 231). The industry helps to create more than 200 million employment opportunities in the world.

The annual rate of guest arrivals in developing countries has averaged at 10 percent since 1990(Scheyvens 232). This is an impressing statistics considering the fact that it exceeds the average global annual rate by five percent. In the western and developed countries tourism is hardly among the top contributors of economic development. According to the IIED, tourism only contributes to 10 percent of the GDP of developed countries. This is despite these countries having some of the leading tourist attraction sites in the world(Sumner 16). However, in developing countries tourism contributes up to 45 percent of their individual GDP. The thriving tourism industry in developing countries has led to a decline in prices of traditional agriculture products. Evidence of this decline can be seen from the numerous studies that have attributed the same in the Caribbean and Latin America region. As a result, most of these countries tend to look beyond the traditional agriculture product as a means of economic development.

The 1998 United Nations Conference on Trade and Development identifies tourism to be the only sector in developing countries where they have constantly experienced surpluses. As a result, tourism has been supported to aid in the process of reducing or alleviating poverty(Scheyvens 232). Currently, the trends in the global tourism industry have encouraged the concept of pro poor tourism. The concept is used to imply tourism that is aimed at benefiting the poor.

Methodology: case study

In order to meet the objective of this research paper, it will assume a case study approach towards the topic in consideration. It will analyze secondary materials that provide information about HIV and tourism in the Caribbean region. It will seek to establish the link between these two variables in order to identify the impact HIV has on the tourism sector of the region.

Impact of HIV on tourism in the Caribbean

Tourism in the Caribbean region is central to its economy. According to Connolly et al. (355), the sector contributes to 15 percent of the region’s gross domestic product (GDP). This is according to the 2011 figures by the world tourism and travel council. Most visitors who arrive in the region come from various parts of the world including Europe, Canada, and the US. However, Connolly notes that it is the expansion of tourism that has led to other negative activities in the society such as commercial sex. The expansion sex trade in the region is directly proportional to the expansion of tourism in the region. Sex trade is now an established industry commonly known as the “pleasure industry”. The industry has taken several forms with the availability of both female and male sex workers. The hotel industry is also among the major marketers for sex trade in the region(Connolly, Padilla and Reyes 360).

By 2007, it was estimated that one percent of all adults living in the Caribbean region were infected with HIV. The Dominican Republic and Haiti are the two countries in the region that accounts for the largest percentage of all HIV infection. Research also identifies that most infection cases are through heterosexual means. However, recently there has been increase of infection through same sex intercourse (Connolly, Padilla and Reyes 356).

Since 1970, the region has focused its investment effort on large scale tourism. This has in effect increased the growth of tourism and expansion of the region’s economy. The Dominican Republic is one country where numerous studies have been conducted to investigate the relationship between these two variables: HIV and tourism. Every year, there are more than three million visitors from Europe and North America who enter the country as tourists. Tourism has also provided economic opportunities for many locals in the country (Connolly, Padilla and Reyes 364). The expansion of tourism has seen the growth of other industries and sectors such as agricultural and informal sector decline as more people looking for job opportunities venture into tourism(Godfrey 235). As a result, there is large scale internal migration. In addition, foreign nationals are also getting into the region to invest in the booming tourism industry. Essentially, there is an unprecedented scope of convergence of people into one sector.

Studies suggest that tourism areas in the region are distinct in terms of behavioral, social and geographical functioning. Some of these areas are heightened in terms of vulnerability to HIV and STI infections. The mobile population in the region therefore contributes to the spread of the infection. Evidence shows that there are some forms of contact of major parties involved in the tourism sector which increases the risk of transmission of HIV(Remero-Daza and Freidus 175). The contact between commercial sex workers and tourists increases the prevalence rate. Secondly, there are also high risk behaviors especially in the tourism areas which increase the prevalence rate. Thirdly, the intermigration from other labor markets to tourism further increases the prevalence rates of HIV. Lastly, the evidence of alcohol and substance abuse increases the prevalence rate of HIV infection in the region.

HIV increases the level of poverty of a country. For most people living in poor conditions, a healthy life is one of their biggest concerns. Young people die at an early age due to the disease. This reduces the life expectancy of the region. It is hard for development to fully be realized in the Caribbean with low life expectancy. The segment of the population that is labor intensive fails to live to its full life time. This segment is what the Caribbean governments need for the development of the region(Remero-Daza and Freidus 185). If they fail to become productive and die at an early age, it becomes hard for the economy to grow.

Impact of HIV on the image of Caribbean tourism

HIV therefore has a negative effect to the tourism industry in the Caribbean region. One major effect identified from the analysis is deprivation of human capacity and productivity. The growing number of people leaving the informal sector to join tourism remains at risk especially with rise in prevalence rate. According to research studies, most governments within the region are focused on optimizing full gain from tourism. Some of these governments would have little attention towards the growing concern of high HIV infection rate(Connolly, Padilla and Reyes 368). For instance, in the Dominican society, the government seeks to maximize benefit from tourism at the expense of the health of its people. Political leaders are aware of the state of the situation however become less willing to control it because some assume that sex activities in the region help to promote or attract tourists. This has given the Caribbean region an image of where one goes to find pleasure. Indeed, even the hotel industry in the country promotes the concept. Some are afraid to put in place programs for HIV prevention in the sector because they it is believed that the sex trade is a key strategic tool for promotion of tourism.


Prioritizing the interest of the tourism industry in the Caribbean region is merely an assumption that HIV has no direct influence on the sector. However, there is a direct influence especially considering that fact that the disease spreads to other less vulnerable areas. There is need for governments in this region to promote programs for prevention and control of HIV infection. Inasmuch as commercial sex is considered to be strategic for the promotion of tourism in the region, the programs for HIV prevention and control have to be put in place to discourage risky behaviors in tourism areas. The government can also seek to look beyond tourism as a source of employment opportunities for the poor. This would discourage negative circles of promiscuity, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, and heavy internal migration to tourist areas. There should be increased campaigns that promote awareness especially among the people working in the tourism sector. From the review of literature, the group is the most vulnerable and most exposed to the risk of HIV infection.

The discussions presented above suggest that HIV has an impact in the tourism sector of the Caribbean region. The disease has created policy barriers aimed at preventing further spread and the high prevalence rate. The paper has also identified that the major causes fort the high prevalence rate of HIV in the region failure by policy makers to want to associate with the disease, lack of government funding for prevention programs, and the mobile nature of tourism employees. In addition, there is also substance use and abuse of alcohol, evidence of commercial sex, and promotion of commercial sex by industries in the tourism sector including the hotel and hospitality industry(Padilla, Amando Reyes and Natsui 254). Even though the image of the region is being affected negatively by the high prevalence rate of HIV, policy makers tend to think otherwise. As a result they are the biggest barrier towards action. It is therefore time for dialogue among different members from both the private and public sector directly or indirectly involved in tourism to. Education has been linked to development and therefore it is imperative for the policy makers to consider educating tourism employees on the danger of HIV(Heyneman 519). Inasmuch as the economy of the region may continue to be supported by tourism, there may not be any significant development or effort to help the locals out of poverty.

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