Wards of deceased HIV-affected parents fall back on grannies for support

They may not be quite sizeable in number, but their tales are heart-rending. Thoroughly shaken by the death of their children, the oldies are seeking solace by taking care of their grandchildren, who would otherwise be orphaned. The support they expect from the State is, however, missing.

Most of the caregivers are aged and infirm women, who find it immensely difficult to bring up the young ones. They neither have the financial wherewithal to bring them up, nor the protective gear to handle the young ones. In most cases, they tend to float with the tide, carrying the stigma left over by the dead ones.

Study carried out

Women’s Initiatives (WINS), a Tirupati-based voluntary organisation, conducted a study in the mandals of Srikalahasti, Renigunta, Yerpedu and Thottambedu in Chittoor district, where the HIV prevalence is reportedly high, though concentrated in specific pockets, according to the data available with the government. The study, conducted in association with HelpAge India, had a sample size of 100 elders taking care of children affected by the death of their HIV-affected parents, but most of them are not HIV-infected.

Most grandparents have tried to leave their wards in juvenile homes and orphanages, which have declined to take care of such children, given the unfounded fears and stigma attached. This is presumably due to the high ‘window period’ in HIV cases and the resultant fear lingering in their minds that the dormant virus could erupt anytime.

The Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS) is still metamorphosing from development angle to protection angle, as the new policy encompasses issues like child labour, harassment and abuse. There is but little activity towards this section of children requiring special attention.

The issues plaguing most cases were found to be inadequate resources, lack of awareness on the ART treatment, the fear of loneliness and the insecurity feeling arising among the caregivers due to ageing. “This grandparent-grandchild combination is very peculiar that it has eluded the attention of advocates of HIV victims, child rights activists as well as geriatricians,” says R. Meera, founder secretary of WINS. Despite hurdles and losing their livelihood sources, the senior citizens, mostly unlettered, do take the ART treatment seriously and bring their wards to the hospitals.

Apart from adding financial strength to the hands of such cases, what is required is a two-pronged intervention by ICPS to care for the senior citizens as well as the HIV- affected children.