"The support keeps me strong": Social support among South Africans ageing with HIV

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Aging with HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa: Health and Psychosocial Perspectives


Early in the HIV epidemic, living with HIV and ageing were mutually exclusive in African countries. Increased accessibility of antiretroviral therapies has changed this. Much is known of the experience of older South Africans as caregivers in the HIV epidemic, but less of the social support experience of those ageing with HIV. This chapter presents data from interviews conducted with 15 South Africans ageing with HIV in inner-city Johannesburg. Initial reports of ageing with HIV among populations of men who have sex with men in high-income countries found shrinking social networks, lack of support, and poor mental health, from the combined impacts of homophobia, ageism, and HIV-related stigma. In contrast, our participants reported amplified support, particularly from adult children. Women were additionally supported by siblings and men by spouses. Participants reported some emotional support, but financial and instrumental support were more common. At the same time, participants (particularly women) noted that their own caregiving roles did not diminish. Social networks of older people with HIV are diverse, and in the African setting, they cannot be assumed to be the same as in high-income countries. Consideration of such difference must be factored into support provision for this population.

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