Members can sign in here.

About the Author

Johan Knols
Blogger, safari specialist, professional wildlife guide (Woerden, Netherlands)

Johan Knols is the owner of the planyoursafari blog. He studied tourism in the Netherlands and has been working in the African tourism industry for nearly 15 years. Starting as lodge manager in the Serengeti in Tanzania, he eventually owned his own mobile safari company in Botswana. Johan received his professional wildlife- guides licence in 1998 and was awarded the title of Honorary Wildlife Officer with the Botswana Wildlife and National Parks authority in 2005. During his time in Africa he has managed upmarket safari lodges and has done overland trips in the luxury and semi-luxury sector. At the moment he is a full-time blogger giving tips and advices on everything related to African safaris.


HIV And The African Tourism Industry

Published 19th May 2010 - 7 comments - 6239 views -

4 examples

In a tourist lodge where I worked, female staff members would find a small handwritten note under their wooden doors a couple of times a week. And it wasn’t delivered by the postman.
“$0.50 to sleep with me with a condom and $1.00 to sleep with me without a condom”, was the standard message most of the time. Signed: staff-member X.
The meeting would happen at night when everybody in the lodge had gone to sleep.

On another day in another lodge, I was called to the staff village. A child had been born overnight. Nobody knew the lady in question was pregnant, she wasn’t married either and had no idea who the biological father might be. She worked normally on the day previous to the birth.

In Tanzania I once had to help a Maasai staff member whose wife had gone into labour, but had up till now (five days later) not received her child. It took me two hours with a vehicle to get her of a mountain and into a hospital. All the time her husband sat next to me.

The last month before returning back to Europe I saved a ladies life by inserting (with radio-help from a qualified nurse) an anal drip four times. Her dehydration was most likely the result of an HIV infection.

The situation

Living and working in remote parts of the African wilderness, far away from spouse and kids isn’t always easy for African staff members in the tourism industry. Especially when you work three months on and one month off. Being isolated in the wilderness brings with it the formation of new extra-marital ‘partnerships’ and an increased risk in the spreading of HIV and other illnesses.

The fact that African social structures are tighter than in the developed world means that workers are also more absent from the job as they often have to look after the wellbeing of their relatives and friends.

The diagram below explains how HIV (in)directly affects the workforce and costs:



The governments of SADC (Southern African Developing Countries) have since ten years been aware about the dangers lurking in the bush and created, with the help of the European Union, a factsheet called ‘HIV and AIDS and Tourism’.


The factsheets comes up with ten guide lines for the HIV protection of tourists, local communities and the tourism sector as a whole and shows some, to say the least, remarkable recommendations.

We can read that ‘tourist should be reassured of the availability of healthcare facilities in the SADC countries’ (bullet 2). The relation with the HIV protection of everybody involved in the tourism industry, is beyond me. Spreading of HIV does not depend on facilities being present or not.

Bullet 3 is almost comical. It urges ‘tourism establishments to provide information to travelers and employees on the risk of rape, as well as train staff members in the counseling of rape survivors…’.

This would be a really good marketing strategy to increase tourism to a country: “Mrs Jones, when you travel to Africa, please bear in mind you could get raped….”.

And as far as rape amongst Africans goes, the women are often too scared to mention it. Let alone press charges.

Furthermore, does this cover the backs of governments by warning us up front that rapes happen? Should they not focus on preventing rape from happening, not only to tourists but especially their own people?

And I am afraid bullet 4 is also not realistic. ‘Research should be undertaken on the behaviours of tourists that may increase their risk and the risk of HIV transmission to the local population’.

Although I understand that HIV transmission is also possible from tourist to local, we might expect that the risks from local to tourist are about 100 times higher when looking at the statistics for Sub-Saharan Africa, where 35% of the 2007 HIV infections and 38% of all Aids deaths occurred.


The recommendations from bullet 6-10 make sense. Many companies have seen the threat to their employees (and their own bank accounts) and have introduced HIV/Aids awareness programs. In some cases, permanently employed nurses regularly tour the establishments and educate, test and inform the workers.

Fortunately the availability of ART’s (Anti Retroviral Treatment) is on the increase in Sub Saharan Africa and this treatment will not only save (and prolong) many lives but severely reduce costs related to workers falling ill due to HIV/Aids. This does however mean a serious commitment by governments to dish out heaps of money as can be read in The Economic Impact of HIV/Aids in Botswana.

The tourist

What does all this mean for you?

First of all that you won’t get infected with HIV if you stick to the normal ways of avoiding it.

Secondly, exercise a bit of patience when holiday-ing in Africa. Not like the couple that recently called a Dutch tour company from South Africa and complained that their pick-up was five minutes late. Later it appeared the guy fell ill while on his way to collect these people.

Last, but not least, the chances of getting raped are (apart from South Africa) very slim when you visit Africa. Simply avoid dodgy places and, especially when being a female, travel with a partner.

Would HIV for you be a reason not to travel to Africa?



Category: Tourism | Tags: africa, africa, hiv, sadc,


  • Hussam Hussein on 19th May 2010:

    In Africa as well as i the other continents, first thing to do is to be caution and take measures in preventing it. Thanks for raising this issue with concrete interesting stories such as the social structure in Africa.

  • Iris Cecilia Gonzales on 20th May 2010:

    Johan, thanks for the stories. If this were a book, it’s a page turner. I have always been interested in Africa because of the things I read and hear about it. I feel that there are so many stories in this place and by writing about it, just as you did, little by little, will be more aware of the issues. Africa needs attention not prejudice. Great! Thanks again for the informative post.

  • Iris Cecilia Gonzales on 20th May 2010:


    May I ask what the featured image is about? It’s very interesting.

  • Johan Knols on 20th May 2010:


    The featured image was taken (not by me) during a walking safari either in Kenya or Tanzania.
    The image in the carousel was (also not by me) taken at a lodge in South Africa.
    I regret having lived in Africa for 15 years and not having a lot of material myself. What I did gain though unfortunately is a lot of experience in First Aid.

  • Iris Cecilia Gonzales on 20th May 2010:

    But your experience is meaningful, I’m sure. I like the image. It’s very interesting. Thanks.

  • Aija Vanaga on 20th May 2010:

    Considering our attitude to HIV and AIDS - which I have experiences so far is looking like - run away as far as you can and NEVER touch, then I would say - it definitely influences destinations we travel to.

  • Johan Knols on 21st May 2010:


    I am highly surprised by your experiences how people in general see HIV.
    A handshake and a normal kiss are social actions that will not lead to infection. The weird thing is that in daily life one can NEVER know for sure another one’s HIV status. Even not in Austria.
    I have to admit that, while living in Africa, I always would go to the dentist during my leave in the Netherlands. Just to be sure. Until the day that I had to see the dentist when I had an emergency. I was highly surprised that every tool he used was sealed in plastic and was opened in front of my eyes. Africa has come a long way (although it is not there just yet!).

Post your comment

  • Remember my personal information

    Notify me of follow-up comments?

    --- Let's see if you are human ---

    Mel Gibson, is he a car mechanic or an actor? Add a questionmark to your answer. (6 character(s) required)