AIDS Orphans of Africa: Victims or Vestiges of Hope

Researcher: Bawa Yamba
The project started in 1998 and was completed in 2003

The research examines the situation of AIDS orphans in sub-Saharan Africa from a multi-disciplinary perspective. The focus is on reality as experienced by orphans: how they cope with the trauma of losing a parent and the stigma of HIV/AIDS; their hopes for the future; and the consequences of large-scale orphanhood for local societies in Africa. The enormity of the problem is obvious from current figures, which put the numbers of HIV/AIDS orphans worldwide well over nine million. It is estimated that about 90% of these are living in sub-Saharan Africa. Despite such figures, except for occasional and piecemeal efforts by NGOs, few systematic research projects exist that address the psycho-social needs of AIDS orphans, and the long-term socio-cultural consequences for the societies in which they live. Past and present research has mainly focused on micro and macro level socio-economic impacts of HIV/AIDS. Whenever prevention strategies and mitigation of the epidemic are considered, it is usually populations that are deemed important for economic production that become the focus of attention. Yet no one can deny that children - many of them orphans - are the true vestiges of hope for a future world, less vulnerable and less susceptible to the epidemic. A prerequisite for such a world is the successful prevention and control of HIV in the young. Orphanhood makes the achievement of such a future scenario difficult; AIDS orphans have a death rate that is three to five times higher than that of their peers; they suffer from poorer health, and are often malnourished. But, worst of all, they are usually driven by necessity to resort to survival strategies that make them easily sexually exploited. This, in turn, puts them at increased risk of being infected with sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and HIV.

The research will focus on a number of themes dealing with different aspects of the problem. Initially, sub-studies will be designed to cover the following broad areas:

  1. the consequences of large scale orphanhood for social structure in societies where the parent generations have died of AIDS, and siblings have to assume the role of caregivers responsible for their brothers and sisters;
  2. the effect of orphanhood on the extended family tradition in Africa;
  3. the empowerment and protection of the girl-child, one of the most vulnerable victims of AIDS and orphanhood;
  4. strategies for provision of education, improved health care, and ensuring food security for orphans;
  5. orphans, street children and prostitution;
  6. counselling and psycho-social support for orphans.

Fieldwork has been done in four African countries: Ghana, Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe in collaboration with researchers based in local institutions. An effort was made to synthesise the theoretical and practical aspects of the project and other relevant work on AIDS orphans, by making research results and findings available to policy makers. Further, a specific effort was made to identify successful local initiatives and strategies that address the problem of orphans, with the intention of promoting their replication elsewhere.

C. Bawa Yamba, who was born in Ghana, became a naturalised Swede in 1972. He studied at the Universities of Stockholm and London (SOAS), receiving his PhD in Social Anthropology from the University of Stockholm in 1990. Apart from a brief period as Senior Research Officer at SAREC (the research department of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, Sida) Yamba was with Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden, where he co-ordinated a research project on HIV/AIDS in East and Southern Africa. His principal interests are the study of ritual and moral institutions, traditional epistemologies and worldviews, and HIV/AIDS. He was appointed Research Fellow for Sweden at the Nordic Africa Institute in October 1998.

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