Academic journal article Social Work

Sub-Saharan African Women Living with HIV/AIDS: An Exploration of General and Spiritual Coping Strategies

Academic journal article Social Work

Sub-Saharan African Women Living with HIV/AIDS: An Exploration of General and Spiritual Coping Strategies

Article excerpt

In its policy statement on HIV and AIDS, NASW (2003) underscored the catastrophic nature of the HIV/AIDS crisis in many parts of the world. Since the publication of this statement, little improvement has occurred in the global picture. According to recent data from the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the World Health Organization (WHO) (2007), the number of people living with HIV has continued to increase. In 2007, more people than ever before were living with HIV, approximately 33.2 million people globally (UNAIDS/WHO, 2007).

HIV/AIDS has been called the "quintessential social work practice issue" (Kaplan, Tomaszewski & Gorin, 2004).Vulnerable populations, which are central to the profession's mission, tend to be disproportionately affected by the epidemic (Galambos, 2004). Among the most vulnerable populations in the world are those living in sub-Saharan Africa and, within this region, women, perhaps particularly those with children (NASW, 2003).

Sub-Saharan Africa may be the most economically marginalized region in the world, with less than 0.6 percent of the world's gross domestic product (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, 2005). This region accounts for approximately 10 percent of the world's population (Mohammed, 2003), but almost two-thirds (68 percent) of those living with HIV/AIDS and 76 percent of AIDS deaths globally (UNAIDS/WHO, 2007). Indeed, the leading cause of death in sub-Saharan Africa is AIDS (UNAIDS/WHO, 2007).

Among those living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa, 61 percent are women (UNAIDS/WHO, 2007). Indeed, more women are living with HIV now than ever before in Asia, the Caribbean, Eastern Europe/Central Asia, Latin American, and sub-Saharan Africa (UNAIDS/WHO, 2007). In sub-Saharan Africa in particular, women carry a disproportionate share of the AIDS burden (UNAIDS/WHO, 2006). Not only are they more likely to be infected with HIV, they are also more likely to be responsible for caring for others infected with HIV (UNAIDS/ WHO, 2006).

In addition to caring for themselves and others living with HIV/AIDS, these women bear many extra burdens, including concerns about child care (Mugambi, 2006; Withell, 2000). Most people infected with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa are parents with young children (Mohammed, 2003). In more developed nations, mothers can often look to grandparents and other relatives to care for their children (Linsk & Mason, 2004). Yet in many African nations, the magnitude of the epidemic has exhausted the available social and economic resources (Foster, Levine, & Williamson, 2005; Oleke, Blystad, & Rekdal, 2005). The lack of able-bodied adults to care for orphaned children after a mother's illness and death is a major concern (Bolton & Wilk, 2004; Macintyre, Brown, & Sosler, 2001; Roby & Eddle man, 2007). This situation represents a significant source of psychological stress for mothers (Antle, Wells, Goldie, DeMatteo, & King, 2001; Marcenko & Samost, 1999; Withell, 2000) and for children (Atwine, Cantor-Graae, & Bajunirwe, 2005; Woodring, Cancelli, Ponterotto, & Keitel, 2005).

In sum, the most representative person on the planet living with HIV/AIDS is likely a sub-Saharan African woman with few economic or educational assets. While dealing with her own infection, she must also typically shoulder substantial caregiving responsibilities. Furthermore, these responsibilities must be borne without the medications and heath care resources often take for granted in more developed nations (NASW, 2003).

This reality implicitly raises the question--how do these women cope? How do these women deal with the extremely trying life circumstances that accompany HIV/AIDS? Research relevant to this question is reviewed in the following section.


Surprisingly little research has been conducted on the coping strategies used by sub-Saharan African women. …

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