Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Older Women in Asia and Africa face the HIV/AIDS Crisis: Interview with Dr. Kalindi Thomas by Magali Girod

Kalindi Thomas

Global Action on Aging interviewed Dr. Kalindi Thomas. After attending medical school, Dr. Thomas did her residency in rural India, in a Presbyterian Hospital. She worked for twenty-three years in Hopkins with grassroots organization and the local community. Then, she served for seven years in New Delhi for the Christian Mission Hospital. For the past eight years, Dr. Thomas has been working for the Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church, in the Health and Welfare Department. She coordinates the program to fight against HIV/AIDS and Malaria in Asia and South Africa (Zambia and Mozambique in particular). In her daily work in Asia and Africa, she encounters many older persons and has witnessed the impact of the HIV/AIDS crisis on them and their families.


In Africa, older persons, especially older women, are in charge of taking care of the orphaned children and the chronically ill. Most of the time, they are the only healthy ones in the community strong enough to take on this task. However, they sometimes lack the physical strength or the medical knowledge.

Older women in Africa are also secondary caregivers. They are the ones willing to go to visit the sick and frail people in their community. However the expectations of the patients are higher that what these older women can offer. The sick want food, medication, water. At the same time, older women themselves face major difficulties. They are poor and uncompensated for their time and effort older women can easily fall into debt as their meager pension is not sufficient to support their adult children and grandchildren. They do not receive any support from their national or local government. They sometimes lack the appropriate identification papers to receive social pensions when available and are denied property rights.

However, some positive developments are also taking place in the area. Women are brought together and share knowledge and hope. They also benefit from small loans, which allow them to buy a goat or seeds for producing vegetables. Older women create their own income by sewing uniforms or cooking.

Vaccination Campaign in Africa

Older man in Africa

Grandmother taking care of her orphaned grandson in Zimbabwe. Her son died of HIV/AIDS and her daughter-in-law died of TB.
Grandmothers and mentally disabled grandchildren dancing in Zimbabwe.
Older Women taking care of an HIV/AIDS patient as secondary caregivers in Zimbabwe.

In Africa, some schools provide one meal a day for children. Grandmothers and their grandchildren join the school to enjoy a meal as well.

Older women cooking for the family


Dr. Thomas Kalindi related the story of an older woman in her 60’s. In Bombay, India, she had heart surgery and got infected by HIV/AIDS through a blood transfusion. Her family did not want people to know about the situation and did not want to keep her at home. They brought her to a mission Hospital where her sons cared for her. However, the daughters-in-law or grandchildren never came to see her. They felt shame and were frightened. This example shows the stigmatization of HIV/AIDS in this region.

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