by Christine Mangale

There was only one session on care giving at the recent International AIDS conference, but I could tell that this was an issue that needs much more attention.

Women and girls comprise nearly 90% of care providers globally especially in rural areas. Women are not just caring for family members, some are trained in home-based care and work in their communities as full-time volunteers because there are no formal health care services available.  And yet, this is rarely recognized and only propels the cycle of poverty. The experts at the session seemed to conclude that this current situation is seen as tolerable since women are the ones going through this.  A question that summed up the session was: “If it was men who are mostly involved in home-based care, wouldn’t a solution already have been found?

The value of time, energy and resources required to perform this unpaid work is rarely recognized. In the African context, this traditional practice is overly exploited, and caregivers that work full time as volunteers to countless patients may only receive a meal for their labor, while just like everyone else, they need money to support their families, especially pay for their children’s school fees. Why can’t some of the billions currently poured towards the AIDS response be targeted towards women who dedicate all their lives taking care of the sick? To care for the sick, girls are dropping out of school and women are suffering in silence. We must advocate for solutions to this care giving crisis, such as community financing systems. This is key to restoring the dignity of these women.