Researching the Impact of the AIDS epidemic on older-age parents in Africa: Lessons from studies in Thailand
Knodel, John E. 2005. "Researching the Impact of the AIDS epidemic on older-age parents in Africa: Lessons from studies in Thailand." Generations Review, 15(April): 16-22.
Both Africa and Asia are facing the effects of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. The chief focus in debates on the epidemic continues to be on the prime-age adults who are mainly affected and killed by the disease, and on the AIDS orphans left by them. However, recent years have seen an emerging international recognition, in particular at UN-level, of the critical importance of considering older people in identifying the impacts and possible responses to the epidemic (UN, 2002).
Large numbers of older people, in particular, the parents of AIDS victims, are directly affected by AIDS. On the one hand, such parents, who are typically in their 50s, 60s and 70s, suffer the adverse consequences of losing a child (Knodel, Watkins and VanLandingham 2002). On the other hand, they play a critical part in helping families and societies to cope with the disease – in particular through their role as carers for their adult children dying from the disease, and guardians for their grandchildren orphaned by it.
Overall efforts to address the impacts of the pandemic in Africa as in Asia, therefore, must crucially identify ways in which older people, in particular AIDS parents, can be supported. A prerequisite for this is a meaningful understanding of the nature and determinants of the impacts that HIV/AIDS has on older adults, as well as solid evidence on the scope and extent of these impacts in the population.
In Africa, such an understanding and evidence is largely absent to date, largely owing to the dearth of comprehensive research needed to generate it. In Asia, in contrast, in-depth and wide-ranging research on the situation of older people affected by AIDS has emerged in recent years, in particular in Thailand. The experience from this research has generated numerous insights and potentially valuable lessons, which can be drawn on in the design of African research in this area. Such 'South-South' exchange is an important, though to date not fully developed, part, of the overall endeavour to advance research on ageing in Africa as in other developing regions.
The main aim of this paper, therefore, is to describe the methodological challenges faced and insights gained in the Thai research and, in light of these, to distil the lessons learnt that might be valuable for African researchers developing research on AIDS and older people.
Country of focus: Thailand.