Elderly caring for orphans and people living with AIDS face harsh realities – UN report

11 December 2002

Older persons caring for their HIV-infected adult children and their orphaned grandchildren face many harsh realities, including financial hardship and lack of access to basic needs, according to a report by the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO).

Older persons caring for their HIV-infected adult children and their orphaned grandchildren face many harsh realities, including financial hardship and lack of access to basic needs, according to a report by the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO).

Based on a case study conducted in Zimbabwe, “Impact of AIDS on older people in Africa” contends that older people are largely left on their own in the important role they are providing in the care and support of their adult children who are terminally ill and the orphans they leave behind. They do this in poverty, without recognition, and often in poor health, the report states. Their contribution is critical within the broad context of improving access to HIV/AIDS care and support, but is generally ignored by society.

"The contribution of older people as care-givers for their children dying from AIDS and of their orphaned grandchildren – Africa's future human capital – is as vast as it is unsung, unrewarded and unsupported," says Dr. Alex Kalache of the WHO Ageing and Life Course team. "However obviously important, such contribution is, by and large, ignored by societies."

The report recommends that older people's caretaker role should be recognized and supported, stressing that unless these caregivers are in good health they cannot continue providing the care that is required. It calls for a change in the attitude of health workers and other service providers, as well as a change in the policies of health and other agencies to ensure that older people have access to proper social, economic and emotional support.

The study took place in 2001 in six of the 10 provinces of Zimbabwe. It employed a mix of qualitative and quantitative research methods to interview 685 older people. The group comprised 40 per cent urban and 60 per cent rural households, all of them providing HIV/AIDS-related care. Two thirds of all these caregivers are women.

 

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