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J Cross Cult Gerontol. 2011 Mar;26(1):85-102. doi: 10.1007/s10823-010-9129-3.

Older female caregivers and HIV/AIDS-related secondary stigma in rural South Africa.

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  • 1Demography and Population Programme, School of Social Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa.


South Africa's HIV/AIDS epidemic poses a major public health threat with multi-faceted harmful impacts and 'socially complex' outcomes. While some outcomes relate to structural issues, others stem from society's attitudinal milieu. Due to negative attitudes toward People Living with HIV/AIDS, stigmatisation mars their own experience and often extends to those close to them, in particular their caregivers. Many of the caregivers in South Africa are older women; thus, older women are the focus of this paper, which aims to examine HIV/AIDS-related stigma from their perspective. This paper explores secondary stigma as a socio-cultural impact of HIV/AIDS through repeated semistructured interviews with 60 women aged 50-75 in the MRC/Wits Rural Public Health and Health Transitions Unit research site (Agincourt), many of whom had cared for a family member with HIV/AIDS. Respondents' narratives reveal that many older persons attribute high rates of death in their community to young persons' lack of respect for societal norms and traditions. The findings illustrate the forms and expressions of HIV/AIDS-related secondary stigma and their impacts on older female caregivers. The types of secondary stigma experienced by the respondents include physical stigma in the form of isolation and separation from family members; social stigma in the form of voyeurism and social isolation; and verbal stigma in the form of being gossiped about, finger-pointing and jeering at them. Despite mixed reports about community responses toward infected and affected people, HIV/AIDS-related stigma remains a cause for concern, as evidenced by the reports of older women in this study.

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