Updated 26 June 2014

The burden of HIV/Aids on women

In addition to the fact that women in Africa are particularly vulnerable to contracting HIV/Aids, the epidemic impacts on them in other ways.


In addition to the fact that women in Africa are particularly vulnerable to contracting HIV/Aids, the epidemic impacts on them in other ways:

Women are the primary caregivers. Women’s traditional role of caregiver means that the primary responsibility of looking after Aids patients and orphans falls to them.

Most Aids care happens in the home, where women look after family members with the disease. The majority of volunteers and Aids workers are also women. Grandmothers often have to take care of and support grandchildren whose parents are too ill or have died.

Many women involved in caregiving are doubly burdened in that they are HIV-positive themselves. HIV infection within a family is often diagnosed when a child infected via mother-to-child transmission becomes ill. The child’s mother, whose partner is likely to be infected, usually becomes the family’s primary caregiver, and her own health needs may be ignored.

Women face economic losses. Women may face reduced earnings and job losses because their duties as caregiver interfere with work outside the home. Infected women are more likely to lose jobs through social stigma. Many women have little or no access to social assistance and health care, which reduces life expectancy in the case of HIV-positive women and impacts negatively on children in their care. If a woman’s partner dies, in addition to the emotional stress of dealing with the death, she frequently loses her financial support also.

Girls’ education is disrupted. Girls are more likely than boys to be expected to leave school to care for the sick and tend the home. This puts them at a disadvantage for future employment prospects.

Women are blamed for HIV/Aids. In many communities, women tend to be stigmatised as spreaders of HIV and Aids. They may be rejected by the same man who infected them and blamed for the death of children who have contracted the virus via mother-to-child transmission.

-Health24, updated October 2006


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Dr Sindisiwe van Zyl qualified at the University of Pretoria in 2005. She is a patients' rights activist and loves using social media to teach about HIV. She is in private practice in Johannesburg.

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