Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Poverty, not AIDS, the reason for imminent downfall of African families

from Yahoo News


Washington, August 21 (ANI): A new study has dismissed the common message spread by media; that AIDS will bring an imminent downfall to the African society.

A University of Missouri-Columbia researcher has called this message an overstatement. Her study shows that AIDS compounds the issue of poverty in households where poverty is already an existing issue, especially when a household loses its primary income earner to AIDS.

Enid Schatz, assistant professor of occupational therapy and director of social science research in the MU School of Health Professions, said that AIDS seemed to be viewed as 'just another crisis' to the families in South Africa, owing to all the poverty issues.

"We saw some households that had experienced an AIDS death functioning better than some households that had not experienced an AIDS death. We were surprised to see that all the alarmist predictions in the popular media that AIDS will bring an imminent downfall to the African society just did not seem to be true. In fact, because of all the poverty issues, AIDS just seems to be viewed as 'just another crisis' to the families in South Africa," Schatz said.

Schatz spent time with older women in multi-generational households in a rural part of northeast South Africa. The older generation's government pensions play a key role in day-to-day survival in this area where AIDS morbidity and mortality have deep effects on household resources. The study says that the elderly are much more likely to be affected, rather than infected, with HIV/AIDS.

"Some of the older women did express that their situations seemed difficult and they expected to be spending these years of their lives resting. However, most often we heard that they feel it is their obligation and responsibility to carry the household financially with their pensions and despite the hardships, most are able to cope," Schatz said.

Often, the offspring of the elderly in families either die of AIDS or have to travel to find work because of the high unemployment rate in the rural areas. The households are then left to deal with the loss of income and support previously provided by those who become sick or die of AIDS.

If parents migrate to find work, grandmothers must use their pensions, intended to sustain one elderly individual, to preserve an entire household and often even donate to other households. One elderly woman in the study and her husband support 12 people, including seven grandchildren, four of whom are AIDS orphans.

"In the Western perspective we often see households as being unconnected and that is not the case in South Africa. We saw families who were very resilient and really taking care of each other. In some cases, grandmothers were caring for their own grandchildren as well as orphans and caring for those sick and dying of AIDS," she said.

The study, titled "Caring and Contributing: The Role of Older Women in Rural South African Multi-generational Households in the HIV/AIDS Era," is published in the August issue of the journal World Development.

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