Grandmothers from across Sub-Saharan Africa gathered in Swaziland to talk about how HIV/Aids has affected their lives. African grandmothers have borne the brunt of the epidemic which has forced many to take up the role of primary carer of their grandchildren after losing their own adult children to the disease. The first African Grandmother Gathering, set up by Swaziland for Positive Living (Swapol), Canadian-based Stephen Lewis Foundation and the Swazi government, aims to build a ‘solidarity movement’ of African grandmothers to bring in aid.
Sub-Saharan Africa is home to more than70% of the world's HIV/Aids sufferers and large parts of the population have been wiped out by the disease. The virus has killed many workers and farmers and has created thousands of orphans. Life expectancy has plummeted. In Swaziland, where the talks were held, more than 40% of the population are believed to be HIV positive.
The idea behind Thursday’s conference is to encourage grandmothers to share their experiences and fears, and to raise awareness that grandmothers bearing the brunt of HIV and Aids need support. "They are at the front line of the HIV and Aids epidemic in Africa," Swapol spokesperson Philile Mlotshwa told the BBC. "Yet no-one has ever recognised the efforts they have actually put through over the two decades when HIV and Aids were discovered in Africa."
About 500 grandmothers from 13 sub-Saharan African countries, including Swaziland, were at the conference, as well as grandmothers from Canada. Grandmother, Siphiwe Hlophe from Swaziland, is providing food, clothes, shelter and school fees for her three grandchildren as well as five other orphans. And she has HIV herself. "But at least I'm working," she said. "What about a grandmother who is not working, who is not employed, who cannot have food?"
HIV/Aids is such a serious problem in Swaziland, that it threatens the country’s long-term survival, say the Aids charity, Avert. According to Avert figures, one in four people in Swaziland are HIV positive. Women have been particularly affected by the epidemic- in women aged 15-49, HIV prevalence is 31%, compared with 20% among men. Aids has devastated the country. In 2007 alone, 10,000 adults and children died from Aids, the organisation says. About 15,000 Swazi children aged up to 14 years are living with HIV, and an estimated 56,000 children have been orphaned by Aids. The impact of Swaziland's epidemic has been so severe that life expectancy has dropped to just 32 years - the lowest in the world.