Analysis of the effects of AIDS-induced morbidity and mortality on rural livelihoods, particularly in east and southern Africa, has gathered pace in the last two decades. An understanding of the interaction between ill health and rural livelihoods is essential both at policy and theoretical levels. However, the tendency to analyse many of the effects of the AIDS epidemic under the rubric of coping strategies needs critical appraisal. In this article the question is posed as a basis for exploring whether the concept of 'coping strategies' is capable of explaining reality on the ground or has merely become a convenient escape route for academics and policy-makers. It is argued that in areas hard hit by AIDS, the concept of coping strategies is of limited value in explaining household experience and may divert policy-makers from the enormity of the emergency.
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