Independent Online, 02 November 2002, Ravages of Aids have come home - report

The ravages of HIV/Aids are beginning to be felt all over South Africa, with reports showing that more than half the affected families do not have enough food to stave off starvation and are forced to watch their children go hungry.

This is one of the key findings in a unique research of 700 Aids-affected households in the country, conducted by the American-based Kaiser Foundation over the past year.

The study surveyed households with at least one person already sick with Aids, in
Gauteng, Mpumalanga, Free State, and KwaZulu-Natal.

According to Kaiser Family Foundation spokesperson Dr Michael Sinclair, the full document, entitled Hitting Home: How Households Cope with the Impact of the HIV/AIDS Epidemic, is to be published within the next few weeks and circulated to government departments and community and business leaders.

The findings run parallel to a World Health Organisation report published this week, which states that HIV/Aids was now the world's fourth-biggest killer, with 40 million people infected, 70% of those in Africa.

The Kaiser Foundation document, described by those who have seen the full report as "far-reaching and explosive", shows for the first time a "clear snapshot" of what is happening in the country to the million or so HIV/Aids-affected households.

"We believe that this document will be extremely valuable in highlighting not only the current situation," said Sinclair "but will underscore the urgent measures needed to contain this tide of destruction."

The survey also documents the access of Aids-affected households to public services and their satisfaction with the services received, as well as access to government financial support for their households.

Said Sinclair: "Funding is not the biggest problem in addressing the pandemic in
South Africa, it is the streamlining - or the lack of it - in the delivery of services to the hardest-hit families. Many of the funding structures are so complex and unwieldy, that in many cases funds that should have been used to bring relief to stricken households are returned unused."

Likely to cause strong reaction is the finding that fewer than 16 eligible households in every hundred surveyed were able to obtain grants.

Other findings include:

Cultural and traditional beliefs in honouring the dead also came to light. It was found that more than half of Aids-affected households paid for a funeral in the past year and spent, on average, four times their total monthly income on the funeral.

Dr Drew Altman, president and CEO of the Kaiser Family Foundation, said: "Everybody knows that Aids is a terrible illness, but this study shows its broader human impact - causing hunger and poverty in those families.

"Sadly, this impact may be even greater than this study shows, because the surveyed households at least had access to some level of outside assistance."