HIV and AIDS

Tracing the destructive impact of HIV

Researchers from different parts of the country agree, households affected by AIDS tend to be much poorer than those which are “unaffected”. However, the silence about the disease has made it extremely difficult for researchers to document the extent of this damage and therefore to highlight the steps government needs to take to prevent these households from slipping ever deeper into poverty. Kathryn Strachan reports.

As you arrive in Tshakuma village in Limpopo you encounter a sign “Tshakuma”, with two makeshift signs below: “mangoes” and “coffins” with an arrow pointing in the direction where they can be found.

 A group of economic researchers have followed the arrows to find out what lies at the end of the trail. Beyond the coffins and the AIDS deaths statistics, there are families and communities left devastated.

However, the silence about the disease has made it extremely difficult for researchers to document the extent of this damage and therefore to highlight the steps government needs to take to prevent these households from slipping ever deeper into poverty.

 The economic researchers from Venda University, led by Prof Steven Oni, set out to determine the effect of HIV/AIDS on rural household incomes, comparing households affected by AIDS with those that were not.

 Although both groups were living below the poverty line, the “affected” households had a far lower yearly income (R13 000) than the “unaffected” households (R20 000). HIV/AIDS-hit households spent more on medical care and hospital bills, transport and funerals, but less on housing and education.  

Affected households also had much lower average savings and borrowed more. Following the trail, Oni and his team found households responded to the cost of AIDS by selling their goats and chickens and taking their children out of school.

 Another team of researchers from the Economic Policy Research Institute, the University of the Western Cape, and Oxford University followed a similar trail in the village of Mount Frere in Eastern Cape. Mount Frere is the second poorest area in SA and the study honed in on the lack of social security support.

 Prof Michael Samson, director of the Economic Policy Research Institute, said their study of families affected by HIV/AIDS found although all the 30 households surveyed had members eligible for social grants, only half the households got any kind of aid.

 While most of the pensioners received their pensions and half of the family members with disabilities received their grants, the take up rate for child support was only 6%. Despite 17 households in the study qualifying for the foster care grant, none received it. Of the 11 applications for a child support grant documented, only one had a birth certificate a precondition for processing the application. Other bureaucratic tangles were encountered.  

 Mount Frere has the highest unemployment rate in SA. Only a third of households have adult men, and the income from accessing child care grants would make a great difference to the economic situation of the area.  

In most households, the only income is the pension of the grandparent. However, as the HIV/AIDS epidemic deepens, fewer adults will reach the pensionable age and families will lose out on this income.

Next on the trail trying to place the pieces of the puzzle together were a group of researchers from nongovernmental organisation Kayamandi Development Services, who looked specifically at the implications for the housing policy.

Led by Russell Aird, the group surveyed 2500 households affected by HIV/AIDS in all nine provinces. They found that in almost two out of every five of these affected households the head of the household was infected.  

Only half of them had told anyone in their family they were HIV-positive. Also, 92% of the households did not have a will drawn up, which meant there would be uncertainty over who the home ownership would be passed onto.  Of the 2500 households surveyed, 5% were headed by children under the age of 15, and 2% of these children were reported to be HIV-positive.

If this trend were to continue, it would mean children would head almost 520000 households by 2010. These households were expected to be more vulnerable to poverty and to being homeless.

Their study found that while the overall demand for housing would be less by 2010 than it would have been in the absence of AIDS, there was a need to look at different housing options as family compositions changed.  

At the end of the trail all the researchers reached a similar destination: they found that even if all the grants were accessed and all the orphans given a roof over their heads, only steps that would provide widespread poverty relief and work opportunities could reverse the fortunes of these families hit by AIDS.

About the author