The elderly- part of the HIV/AIDS solution

“Chirere mangwana chigokurerawo,” so goes an old adage, meaning that people should invest in their children so that they will look after them in old age.

Today, the reverse is true. The HIV/AIDS pandemic has killed that hope as elders watch their children die, leaving orphans in their care.

Mbuya Kanyemba, 71 and a widow, lamented the loss of her child due to AIDS and said that it had left a void in her life.

“It was painful to watch my daughter dying slowly and begging me every day to look after her kids when she passes on. Even though I accepted what had happened, I was also hoping she could look after me” she said.

Mbuya Kanyemba, who lives in Glen View, looks after her six grandchildren, four of whom are of school going age.

“I’m not getting any help from my surviving children since they are not working. I’m grappling everyday to put food on the table and ensure these children manage to have the basics, especially a decent education,” she said.

The elderly are estimated to constitute more than 3, 5 percent of the population.

Although Zimbabwe was one of the first countries to come up with a draft bill soon after the Madrid International Plan on Ageing in 2002; it has still not gone through parliament. South Africa and Swaziland have managed to arrange cash assistance to its elderly at least on a monthly basis. The bill seeks to address the issues of poverty that old people face in their daily lives.

Few resources

“The elderly are most willing to look after these orphans, even though they have very few resources. There is a great need for the elderly to be,” said Conrad Gweru, Advocacy and Communications officer at HelpAge Zimbabwe.

“The elderly have contributed greatly to the care of people living with HIV and AIDS, orphaned children and relatives. Some of these children orphaned by AIDS are also infected and are left in their care,” said Gweru.

According to the World Health Organisation, older members of society should be a resource. If older people can retain their health and live in an environment that promotes their active participation, experience, skills and wisdom will be of great value.

However, elderly people need to access effective health care and live in age-friendly environments where they have a basic level of financial security.

Across sub-Saharan Africa, families headed by older adults are often the poorest, not only placing these vulnerable older people at greater risk, but also making it harder for the children in these households to escape poverty. In the past, the elderly could have expected support from younger generations. Now, that support is no longer available.

Last week, Help Age, together with other stakeholders commemorated a belated international old people’s day. This is an annual event that is celebrated every October 1.

This year’s theme seeks to address the growing challenges and opportunities of ageing people, with an emphasis on an enabling legislation.

“This comes at a time when older people in the country are facing the burden of caring for orphans and other vulnerable children,” said Gweru.

“The elderly play a pivotal role in looking after the sick and orphaned children, therefore their active involvement in HIV/AIDS programmes is very critical,” said Dr Tichaona Nyamundaya, the Technical Officer of the Elizabeth Glaser Paediatric Aids Foundation.

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis

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