1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Social Policy and Development (2000 - 2009)

Understanding Community Responses to the Situation of Children Affected by AIDS: Lessons for External Agencies (Draft)



Throughout Africa, the AIDS epidemic is affecting large numbers of children and generating serious psychological, social and economic problems. Many children who are not themselves infected suffer the consequences of prolonged parental illness. Many others have already experienced the loss of their mother, their father, or both. Estimates for 26 African countries suggest that the number of children losing one or both parents will more than double between 1990 and 2010. By the end of this period, it is estimated, 15 percent of children in these countries will have lost one or both parents, with the figure rising as high as 37 percent in Botswana, 34 percent in Zimbabwe, 32 percent in Swaziland and Namibia, and 31 percent in South Africa and Central African Republic. Even if rates of new HIV infections in adults were to fall in the next few years, the long incubation period would mean parental mortality rates would not plateau until 2020. The proportion of orphaned children (losing either one or both parents) would therefore remain unusually high throughout the first half of the twenty-first century.

Despite massive increases in the number of orphans, a surprisingly small number of children have, up to now, slipped through the safety net provided by the extended family. In general, fostering is provided by relatives. Nevertheless, family coping strategies are under enormous strain. It is thus important to understand the recent proliferation of initiatives supporting vulnerable children at the community level. These responses to the epidemic – growing out of community solidarity, compassion and religious belief – are often hardly known outside their immediate locale. They have been little studied and documented, and few external organizations have sought to support their development. Yet robust community initiatives will be an essential element in caring for growing numbers of orphans and vulnerable children in coming years. They must form part of an expanded response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

In this paper, some of these initiatives are analysed, with a view to encouraging appropriate support from external institutions ranging from local and national NGOs and researchers, to international agencies. At the same time, the paper seeks to discourage inappropriate support, emphasizing the point that such assistance can easily undermine community initiatives. Outsiders can often play a more useful role as facilitators of community-based programmes than as direct service providers. They can build capacity, and increase the scope and scale of existing activities, without imposing externally designed solutions that often have negative consequences.

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