Elderly mothers bear AIDS burden

In countries with a high prevalence of AIDS, the epidemic decimates the young to middle-aged adult population—the backbone of the labor that supports both the national economy and the family.

In the absence of men and women of working-age, older relatives often resume the burden of being breadwinners and caretakers. More often than not, this task falls on elderly women.

A study published in 2002 by HelpAge International, a U.K.-based non-profit that champions older people worldwide, noted the following:

One outcome in countries with high HIV/AIDS prevalence is an increase in the number of chronically poor households headed by older women, with a large number of dependents. Older women generally suffer most from chronic poverty and lack of resources. They are often in need of care themselves, but face, sometimes unaided, the costs and emotional stress of nursing terminally ill relatives, paying for burials and the financial and practical difficulties of bringing up orphans – including payment of school fees.


While the study was published four years ago, the effects described are still the reality. During the summer of 2005, Srinivas and I often noticed elderly mothers at hospitals and care centers unwilling to abandon their sons or daughters to the epidemic.

2 Responses to “Elderly mothers bear AIDS burden”

  1. Joe Thomas says:

    Please consider revising or not using the term “high risk groups”. In the strict sense there is no ‘High risk groups’. Only high risk behaviours……..

  2. Sandeep Junnarkar says:

    Dear Joe,

    Your comment on the use of the term “high risk groups” versus “high risk behavior” about this post ( http://www.livesinfocus.org/voices/2006/01/highrisk_groups.html ) is well taken. We spent much time debating the use of various terms earlier this year, including “commercial sex workers” v. “prostitutes” which is another sensitive controversial choice.

    While it is ultimately true that those who engage in high-risk behavior (whether they are college students, married men having affairs or commercial sex workers) are more likely to become infected, certain groups are documented to have a higher rate of infection than others. These “high-risk” groups—whether by economic necessity, by force or choice—are engaged in work that involves sexual intercourse, which invariably leads to greater exposure to HIV. We have not profiled any drug injectors in this project.

    The debate about which terms are more accurate has been around for some time now. UNAIDS uses the term “at-risk groups” to describe “injectors, sex workers, including those who are not brothel-based, and men who have sex with men.”

    But in the end, this site is about raising awareness of those who are living with HIV or caring for someone who is HIV positive. I hope the site helps to educate readers about how the virus spreads and how real people are affected. I certainly do not want anyone to think that there are certain groups that are at risk while others are not—thereby providing a false sense of security for those engaged in risky behavior. One piece published last year, “Exposing an Indian middle class illusion,” ( http://www.livesinfocus.org/voices/2005/08/smashing_an_ind.html ) addresses this common misperception.

    I am especially concerned because I can see which search terms led people to the Lives in Focus site and at least 5 percent are seeking to engage in risky behavior with commercial sex workers. Search terms like “Prostitutes in Hyderabad” or “sex with girl in Bangalore” or “rates for prostitutes Hyderabad” are quite common. I hope that when Lives in Focus appears in the search result, it influences people to avoid risky behavior

    That, Joe, is a long-winded way of saying that I will update the “High-risk Groups” post to reflect “high-risk behavior” instead. Thanks again.

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