"Broken dreams, shattered lives"
Health & Development Networks (HDN) is an international non-profit organisation established in March 1998, which works to improve communication, expand discourses and promote self-representation in the HIV/AIDS and related health fields internationally.
During the past few years, HDN has established and managed many HIV/AIDS related networks for civil society organisations to talk with each other at global, regional, national and local levels, and to share lessons and opinions on emerging themes and priority issues.
Every month they host a forum in Chiang Mai and the October forum looked at how HIV/AIDS affects the elderly, focusing on the impact on them and the challenges they face. Older people have become the bedrock of afflicted families, showing enormous resilience and strength, caring for their sick children and grandchildren and saving hospitals millions - however their role to date has not been recognised, appreciated or supported.
These elderly people currently face a triple burden; caring for an infected adult child, adopting orphaned grandchildren and looking after themselves in their old age with the added risk of infection. The traditional caring roles are dramatically reversed as instead of their children looking after them in their old age, when they are weak and fragile, they are forced to be the care givers which proves to be strenuous and traumatic for them.
Parents traditionally invest everything they have into their children, in the hope that they will support them in their old age. Now parents are facing a black hole - children dying in middle age, leaving their parents alone with no money and grandchildren to look after.
The traditional role of grand parenting is made burdensome. They are traditionally the givers of love and not discipline, therefore dealing with children who are stressed when they loose their parents makes discipline a huge problem and to exacerbate this, the elderly are often not equipped to witness the death of their own offspring.
The elderly are often forced to re-enter employment at this late stage in their lives, due to the fact that HIV/AIDS is most commonly carried by the middle age working sector. At this age and with limited skills and capabilities, there is a lack of work opportunities for them.
HIV/AIDS is commonly looked at from a health issue, ignoring the socio-economic impact on families and societies. The children are always regarded as the innocent victims and therefore they seem to get all the focus, whilst the elderly are taken for granted as the care source. There is therefore a need to go beyond just acknowledging them to actually addressing their needs. The economic analysis of older people caring for patients could encourage government support.
Some progress has been made over the past seven years, for example: monks are supporting and caring for older people through village temples - promoting interaction and reducing isolation and the stigma attached to HIV/AIDS.
The older people's association is an organisation of information sharing and peer support, where they are also taught basic home care. The HAI project provides material support as well as information sharing and learning. They are also an advocacy for the inclusion of older people into HIV/AIDS programmes. The Thai Nguyen Medical College gives older people skills in self health care.