AIDS Drains Pension Money

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By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK The neglect of elderly people, who bear the brunt of HIV/AIDS, places their sustainability under threat, a study on HIV/AIDS and its implications on the elderly in the Omusati Region has found. With the death of their household members having drastically reduced household remittances, they rely on their pension payouts, which are also diverted into paying the costs incurred by caring for orphans and the sick and dying family members, thus reducing the time they invest in cultivating crops. “The outcome of all these factors in combination is to increase household food insecurity such that the elderly are less able to withstand the shocks of their livelihoods such as drought or death. “The pension payout no longer provides a safety net as it is almost exclusively used as an AIDS grant,” said the findings of the study, “Ageing, HIV/AIDS and Livelihoods in the Omusati Region, Namibia”. Participants drawn from different sectors including traditional authorities, government officials, non-governmental organizations and the legal fraternity, among others, discussed these findings yesterday. Although most of them care for orphaned relatives and the sick and dying, little, says the study, is known about the contemporary role of the elderly in household livelihoods especially in the advent of the pandemic. And while the government, according to the findings of the project, has so far given considerable attention to the situation of the increasing number of orphans and vulnerable children, thee elderly, who up until now act as the principal caregivers of orphaned relatives, have been neglected. Policy implications of this, according to research, is that given the importance of the elderly to rural households, failure to support them to sustain their livelihoods will have far-reaching consequences for rural poverty. It is also feared that the death of many adults will in 40 years’ time mean that the population of the pensionable age would decline and result in fewer pensions and thereby threaten livelihood security. According to the findings, nearly two thirds of all elderly female-headed households (FHH) contained orphans. While 24 percent of the children looked after by the elderly had lost at least one parent, 38 percent had lost a father, 42 percent a mother and 20 percent had lost both parents. But one of the principal investigators of the project, Dr Deborah Sporton, a senior lecturer at the University of Sheffield, told New Era yesterday there was an absence of the elderly because even though people know the important role they play, their work is not taken into account when formulating policy. “No one talks about the elderly,” she said. The study said due to this, the N$370 pension provided to the elderly no longer provides a safety net. Although senior citizens of over 60 years of age account for only nine percent of Namibia’s population, over half of all households are headed by the elderly, with two thirds being female headed. The project undertaken by the University of Sheffield in the UK and the University of Namibia’s Multi-Disciplinary Research Centre, with funding from the Economic and Social Research Council between August 2005 and November 2006, says the burden of caring for the sick and dying and orphans falls on the elderly who have to bear the costs through their pension, thus making it an AIDS grant. The study, according to Sporton, is one of the few studies done on ageing populations in southern Africa. These findings, according to recommendations of participants at the workshop, could be helpful in policy on the elderly, which is currently being formulated. Another policy issue outlined in the report is that the low take-up of disability and foster grants reflect the cumbersomeness of registration procedures. The study was undertaken to investigate the livelihoods of the elderly, their vulnerabilities, capabilities, institutional and policy contexts and the impact of HIV/AIDS. Among its objectives were to investigate the role they play in natural based resource livelihoods, identify institutional frameworks that affect their capabilities and work, enable their access to livelihoods for elderly headed households and examine the role of policy in contemporary livelihoods among elderly headed households. The elderly pension contributes an important safety net that mitigates livelihood shocks as it not only buys food for the household to supplement the household until the next harvest, but buys uniforms for school children as well. Beyond the immediate household, the injection of cash through the pension has triggered a new informal economy as markets now follow the pension from one pay point to the next. “Although this helps to support other households, pressure on the pension as a household safety net potentially threatens the regional sub-economy,” the study said. The research was prompted by the relative neglect of the elderly in development research, policy and practice.