How hydro can aid the fight against HIV

You may not be making the connection with that headline. I sure didn’t when I first saw this story.

But, it appears that one (likely unexpected) benefit of hydropower is improving the quality of life, and even prolonging survival, for people with HIV in parts of Africa, such as Zimbabwe.

The story, located here, says that irrigation water from a nearby hydropower facility allowed for the development of a nutritional garden that provides people suffering from HIV with a more balanced diet, which also helps improve the efficacy of antiretroviral drugs.

Isn’t that a fascinating story?

The woman featured is an unemployed widow with three children … and HIV. In the cooperative garden she and others in the local community run, vegetables that are grown include green beans, potatoes, onions, tomatoes, sweet potatoes and maize. What isn’t consumed is sold at local markets.

The hydro project driving this positive trend is an 80-kW facility on the Chatora River that also powers a sawmill, grinding mill and “fowl run.” The project is funded by the EU at US$2.2 million under a five-year program called Catalysing Modern Energy Service Delivery to Marginal Communities in Southern Africa. It began generating electricity in 2012.

Having money, and electricity, allows locals to have radio sets, which the woman uses to listen to health programs. And the money can be used to pay her children’s school fees.

Potential future benefits being eyed for this hydro project include generating electricity for a nearby school and hopefully attracting construction of a medical clinic now that electricity is available. This electricity can be used to extend operating hours by having proper lighting, to boil water for pregnant mothers, to power heaters for newborn babies, and to refrigerate drugs and vaccines.

This is not the first hydro project being used in the area to benefit local communities, and hopefully with the United Nations’ Sustainable Energy for All initiative, it won’t be the last. Goal 7 of this initiative is to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.

Tellingly, the woman interviewed said, “At one time I thought I was dying, only to realize that I was lacking a proper balanced diet.” Then she said, “With the state of my body now, nobody recognizes that I am HIV positive.”

Isn’t that a great benefit of hydropower?!

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