Grandmothers' Productivity and the HIV/AIDS Pandemic in sub-Saharan Africa

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The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)/acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) pandemic has left large numbers of orphans in sub-Saharan Africa. Botswana has an HIV prevalence rate of approximately 40% in adults. Morbidity and mortality are high, and in a population of a 1.3 million there are nearly 50,000 children who have lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS. The extended family, particularly grandparents, absorbs much of the childrearing responsibilities. This creates large amounts of additional work for grandmothers especially. The embodied capital model and the grandmother hypothesis are both derived from life history theory within evolutionary ecology, and both predict that one important factor in the evolution of the human extended family structure is that postreproductive individuals such as grandmothers provide substantial support to their grandchildren's survival. Data collected in the pre-pandemic context in a traditional multi-ethnic community in the Okavango Delta of Botswana are analyzed to calculate the amount of work effort provided to a household by women of different ages. Results show that the contributions of older and younger women to the household in term of both productivity and childrearing are qualitatively and quantitatively different. These results indicate that it is unrealistic to expect older women to be able to compensate for the loss of younger women's contributions to the household, and that interventions be specifically designed to support older women based on the type of activities in which they engage that affect child survival, growth, and development.

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