Talk Examines HIV/AIDS Caregiving Issues in South Africa

February 13, 2008

In a talk on February 12 titled "HIV/AIDS and the Gender Politics of Social Care," a Northeastern University School of Law professor called for a living wage for the mostly female caregivers dealing with the illness in some of the poorest parts of the world.

Professor Brook Baker, who is also a policy advisory for Health GAP (Global Access Project), an organization seeking worldwide access to HIV/AIDS treatment, said that women who provide uncompensated care are removed from paying work and more likely to contract the virus, sometimes turning to sex work in the face of impoverishment.

"I'm afraid we continue not to pay women for this work, we're actually perpetuating the economy that makes them more vulnerable," he said.

Coordinated by the Ethics Center, the event also featured Donna Gallagher, a registered nurse and Ph.D. candidate at the Heller School, who has worked extensively on HIV/AIDS caregiving issues in South Africa and many other countries. She spoke about her fieldwork trying to bring the care found in major clinics and urban hospital to the underserved townships in South Africa.

"We wanted to find ways to get the drugs to the people who needed them," she said.

The work also focused on prevention and providing medication to pregnant mothers with HIV to ensure that the virus would not pass to their children.

"The fact that we were able to preserve the next generation is what we have to do for all of Africa," said Gallagher.

Baker provided a range of statistics showing the level of crisis pertaining to HIV/AIDS care, including a global shortage of at least 4 million health care workers, more than 1.4 million in Africa. That continent bears 24 percent of the global burden of the disease with less than 1 percent of global health expenditures, according to Baker.

"We have a huge mismatch between people who need access to health care and that access," he said.

The event was held in conjunction with photography and linocut exhibition at the Women's Studies Research Center called "Healing, Community and Transformation: Student Visions From Johannesburg," on display until February 26.