According to estimates from the UNAIDS 2008 Report on the global AIDS epidemic, around 30.8 million adults and 2 million children were living with HIV at the end of 2007. The overwhelming majority of these people, 95% of the global total, live in the developing world. The proportion is set to grow even further as infection rates continue to rise in countries where poverty, poor health care systems and limited resources for prevention and care fuel the spread of the virus.
Women and girls already provide 90% of the care need generated by HIV/AIDS. Care giving diverts women from other productive tasks. One such task is food production. This is particularly devastating in developing countries where women produce between 60% and 80% of the food.
HIV is the fastest way for a family to move from relative wealth to poverty. Care giving usually makes it impossible for a women to hold a paying job outside the home, to access educational activities available in the community, healthcare for herself, or to participate in community decision making. Families often take on extra work, sell assets, borrow money and take children, usually girls, out of school and use the school fees to pay for medical interventions and the girls for care giving and other household tasks. Each of these strategies provides a short-term solution but makes the family worse off in the long term.
As the global recession deepens hard decisions will have to be made regarding how to best utilize limited resources. In this context it is important to note that research has shown that when public health services are downsized because of economic reasons, women’s traditional roles as housekeepers, nurturers and caregivers are reinforced. This means that more women and girls will have to take on the burden of care giving. In the developing world this will mean more hunger and more poverty. In the long term, as a result of girls being taken out of school, economic productivity will continue to decrease, infant and maternal mortality will increase, families will be less healthy and the next generation of girls less likely to go to school. It is a vicious cycle.
How can Passionists advocate for funding for public health programs and social protection for persons and families living with HIV/AIDS?