The effect of HIV/ AIDS on elderly women in the rural areas of Zambia: A case study of Chongwe Rural
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HIV/AIDS has been acutely experienced in the rural areas of Zambia. In fact the effect of HIV/AIDS on elderly women has changed their role from being looked after to looking after others especially grandchildren, after their parents have died of HIV/AIDS.Therefore the epidemic has slowly but surely changed their roles as provided for to providers of medical care for their sick adult children and education for their orphaned grandchildren In Zambia at the end of 2001, more than 1.2 million people were living with HIV/AIDS out of a population of 9.8 million. The Zambia Demographic health Survey conducted in 2001-2002 confirmed that the prevalence rate in Zambia was 16% among adults of reproductive age, 17.8% for women and 12.9% for men. The overall objective of the study was to examine the effect of HIV/AIDS on the elderly women aged 60 years and above in the rural areas of Zambia. The study sought to investigate the socio-economic, psychological, and physical effect of HIV/AIDS on the elderly women. It also aimed at finding out their coping mechanisms. The study further assessed the roles played by formal support systems such as the Government, NGOs, and the Church in providing assistance to these elderly women. The study was undertaken between August and September 2005. The study utilized the qualitative research technique. This approach was used so that the researcher could record the spoken words of the participants. This method also enabled the researcher to observe the participants behaviour and record it accurately. The participants were also studied in their natural environment, that is, the elderly women at their homes and the key informants in their offices. This method had an advantage because the participants were able to express themselves freely to the researcher. Employing qualitative methods was useful also in providing an in-depth understanding of the situation of the elderly women in the study. Data for the study was collected via one on one unstructured, in-depth interviews with twenty five participants. These participants included twenty elderly women aged 60 years and above who were either caring for an adult child infected with HIV/AIDS or had lost an adult child because of HIV/AIDS. The study was comprised of five key informants, one Government official from the Ministry of Community Development, three representatives from three Non-Governmental Organisations,namely, World Vision, Christian Children's Fund, and Facing the Challenge of AIDS,and one church official from the Catholic Diocese.The results of this study indicated that the legacy of the increasing number of deaths of the young adults in the productive age groups (19-49 years) in Chongwe rural is having far reaching social, economic, physical and psychological negative implications on the elderly women aged 60 years and above. Empirical evidence from the study show that 70% of the elderly women had suffered the loss of a child from HIV/AIDS, and 30% were caring for a sick adult child. The study has revealed that 75% were caring for school-going children who were orphaned by HIV/AIDS.This research indicated that all these elderly women with income that could hardly support their daily basic needs had an extra burden of providing basic needs for their orphaned grandchildren. The study revealed that, for all the twenty elderly women the combined effect of increased care-giving responsibilities and decreased economic support due to depleted human capital and low productivity had created a new situation for them. The research also found that the major coping strategy employed by the majority of these elderly women was earning an income by working on other people's farms (planting, weeding, and harvesting). The study shows that traditional support structures such as relatives, friends, and neighbours assisted in caring for the patients, by providing food and moral support but did not assist them with school requirements and medical costs because they too were experiencing similar problems. The study further indicated that 70% of the elderly women pointed out that the assistance that was provided on a monthly basis was inadequate and irregular. On the question about Government assistance all the 20 elderly women in the study reported that they were not beneficiaries to any Government assistance and 40% complained that they were not aware about this assistance. In conclusion, HIV/AIDS has had a severe negative effect on elderly women in the rural areas of Zambia and this pandemic has indirectly changed the role of the aged from being provided for, to providers of care for their sick adult children and the orphaned grandchildren without even the basic necessary resources. This is now posing an additional burden on them, further increasing their vulnerability. In the study this kind of scenario was found to contribute to the psychological and physical trauma and challenges that these elderly women suffered. In view of the findings the researcher recommended that the different needs, roles and responsibilities of elderly women be acknowledged and included in programs and policies addressing this pandemic.