NAIROBI, 11 November 2009 (PlusNews) - When the working members
of a household die from HIV-related illnesses in northern
Tanzania, older dependants have to work longer hours to cope
financially, according to recently published World Bank study.
"Adult death is associated with increased farm hours ... Older
women who suffer the loss of a co-resident member among their
baseline household are working five hours more each week," the
More than 1,000 men and women older than 50 were surveyed over a
13-year period between 1991 and 2004 in the Kagera region.
Older adults who had relied on remittances and other in-kind
support from their adult children were left with the burden of
caring not only for themselves but also their orphaned
"Grandparents who should be in retirement are forced to start
working and parenting again, often when they are not in the best
physical condition," said Wamuyu Manyara, portfolio manager at
the Africa Regional Development Centre of HelpAge International.
"An older woman with thinning bones should really not be forced
to return to the field and farm."
The study noted that the shocks caused by the death of adult
children were primarily felt by older people living with the
children when they died. Women had less secure access to land and
assets than men, but shouldered most of the labour after their
children died, and also felt the shocks more than men. Owning
more assets, such as land and animals, could act as a buffer.
"Policies which help ensure complete markets for livestock and
other forms of assets, provide asset accumulation, and preserve
women's rights to property may help mitigate the long-run
negative impact of prime-age [15-50 years] deaths," the report
The elderly were often marginalised by state welfare programmes.
"Older people are not organised enough to advocate for their
needs, and they wind up being grouped in government departments
with either children or people with disabilities - both these
groups have powerful lobbies that drown out the needs of older
people," said HelpAge's Manyara.
"In Kenya we are currently in the process of identifying
community spokespeople to give them a public voice, but because
many of them can't speak English or are illiterate, they are not
always willing to take on the challenge."
Several African governments were doing more to include older
people in social welfare programmes, particularly older carers.
"There is now an appreciation of the magnitude of the problem,
and there are some programmes catering for older people's
economic needs," Manyara noted.
"Old-age pensions and child-care grants provided to older South
Africans, and cash transfer programmes for older Kenyans, are
practical examples of the types of programmes that need to be
rolled out across the region ... [but the need] is still much
higher than the numbers being catered for."
Research by the UN Children's Fund, UNICEF, in five African
countries found that between 40 percent and 60 percent of all
orphans in Kenya, Namibia, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe were
being cared for by grandparents, particularly grandmothers.
Need for targeted programming
"Some of these older people can still work - they have energy and
should be supported in their work with income-generating
projects," Manyara suggested. "The conditions for accessing
microfinance are usually so rigid that older people do not
qualify; something should be done to encourage older people still
able to work to access these funds."
Kavutha Mutuvi, HelpAge International's regional advocacy
coordinator, said older people needed secure incomes. "There
should be social pensions ... especially for those who are caring
for households in their old age," she said.
Yet the bureaucratic hurdles in accessing support were
considerable. "When a grandmother wants to claim a foster care
grant, she may be asked for death certificates for her children
or birth certificates of the grandchildren," Mutuvi pointed out.
"She may not have or have access to this documentation, but the
fact that she is their grandmother can easily be verified by
consulting community leaders - there should be a way to do away
with much of the red tape they go through to claim support."
Older people also needed psychosocial assistance when their
children died and they were left to raise the grandchildren. "We
have tried to form support groups, which are more successful
among women than men, but when it comes to helping grandparents
with parenting skills, there is a definite need ... because they
do come to us with questions when kids, for instance, want to
know about sexuality," Mutuvi said.
The role of older people should be acknowledged when drawing up
national home-based care policies and programmes, she said, by
providing meaningful support such as physical help from community