1963-2018 - 55 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Social Policy and Development (2000 - 2009)

Adaptive Strategies and Coping Mechanisms of Families and Communities Affected by HIV/AIDS in Malawi (Draft)

The HIV/AIDS pandemic places tremendous strains on households and communities to care for those who are chronically ill, as well as orphans and the elderly. This paper looks at some of the coping mechanisms seen within Malawian families and communities as they respond to the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

HIV/AIDS in Malawi is overwhelming. With an HIV prevalence rate of 14 per cent in the economically productive age group of 15-49 years, Malawi is one of the countries most affected by HIV/AIDS in the world. The first case of AIDS was diagnosed in 1985. In the mid-1980s, 2 per cent of pregnant women attending prenatal clinics were HIV infected; in less than two decades an estimated 35 per cent of pregnant women were infected. According to the National AIDS Control Programme, the prevalence of HIV in the economically productive age group is estimated at 26 per cent in the urban areas and 12 per cent in the rural areas. In the same age group, the prevalence of HIV in the northern region is estimated at 9 per cent, 11 per cent in the central region and 18 per cent in the south. According to Government of Malawi and the World Bank, high rates of urbanization and labour migration are the most important contributing factors to the high rates of HIV in the southern region of Malawi.

The demise of economically productive young men and women robs children, the aged and other members of the extended family of the social security system that they all depend on. Personal insurance schemes, pensions and worker’s compensation only cater for a very small percentage of Malawi’s population.

While the extended family system is still the first choice of coping, it is under great strain. This applies to caring for the chronically ill, as well as taking care of orphans. In the absence of relatives (or in the presence of unwilling relatives), children increasingly assume the role of caregivers to their parents or, indeed, in the case of the death of both parents children care for themselves. Early marriages, dropping out of school in order to head a family, casual labour and piece-work, and small-scale sales, are some of the strategies being used in Malawi to cope with the impacts of HIV/AIDS. In addition to these informal social safety nets, community-based organizations have also been established in different parts of Malawi with the aim of assisting those families affected by HIV/AIDS.

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