Community responses to HIV/AIDS

    | January 26, 2009

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    Our second news story focuses on the importance of nutritious food for people living with HIV. It also uncovers the common problem of HIV-positive people becoming too weak to work (especially when adequate food is not available). When people become unable to farm, whether because of sickness, care giving duties, or mourning rituals, food production and family food security are affected. In the following script, two hosts discuss ways that communities can support families affected by HIV and AIDS, who may have lost income or the ability to produce food. You can also find this script online at:


    Notes to Broadcaster

    To help cope with the impact of HIV/AIDS in their communities, Africans have established a wide range of social support activities. These activities serve to share the burden of increasing workloads. Sometimes they are initiated by the community itself, or they may be started and supported by outside agencies, such as government, NGOs or religious institutions. This wide range of strategies includes:

    -Loans and savings clubs
    -Shared child care
    -Labour-saving clubs
    -Funeral funds/Burial societies
    -Social support groups
    -Community grain banks

    Coping strategies that are developed locally are often the most practical and least expensive to implement. Broadcasters have an opportunity to promote and support local coping strategies by featuring them in radio programs.

    The following script features two hosts discussing a variety of approaches to the labour shortages that have resulted from HIV and AIDS. Please see the end of the script for descriptions of some of the coping strategies mentioned in the script.


    Host 1: Everybody in our community has been touched by HIV and AIDS. We all know the terrible impact of these diseases.

    Host 2: Yes, HIV and AIDS have brought so much hardship. But we’re not here today to dwell on the negative.

    Host 1: That’s right. Today we’re going to talk about the positive action being taken by local people – and also by people in other parts of Africa; the things people are doing to reduce their workload.

    Host 2: Most of us know that one of the biggest problems we face is a smaller workforce. Sadly, we have lost so many friends and relatives to the illness. Now we have fewer people to do the work that needs to be done. We all have a greater burden.

    Host 1: So what we’d like to discuss today is some of the ways that people are coping. How are we helping each other to manage in such difficult times?

    Host 2: Although we may not be aware of it, people provide help and support to one another in different ways, every day.

    Host 1: Let’s present a couple of examples, to give listeners an idea of what we’re talking about.

    Host 2: Well, sometimes the activities are really quite simple. For example, one farmer helps to cultivate another farmer’s field. Or a woman provides child care, so her neighbour can travel to market.

    Host 1: Sometimes this kind of support is more organized. What I mean by this is that several people get together and organize themselves to achieve a common goal. For example, they combine their money to pay funeral expenses, or to buy supplies for orphans and widows.

    Host 2: I’ve personally seen an example of this. When my sister-in-law’s father died a couple of years ago, all the neighbours contributed cash to pay for the funeral. They called it a burial fund

    Host 1: Right…a burial fund is a good example of a support group. There are others…such as a labour sharing group – where people work as a group to harvest crops or construct a home.

    Host 2: Something else for people to consider is a community grain bank. A grain bank can provide food when crops fail and the harvest is poor. In Zimbabwe the community grain bank is a very old tradition. But people are still using it to deal with food shortages. Today the grain that is stored in these grain banks provides an important source of food to households that have been affected by HIV and AIDS.

    Host 1: Before we run out of time, there are a couple of other organizations that are important to mention. For example I wonder if anyone in the audience has been involved in a savings club?

    Host 2: That’s when a group of people agrees to put money into a fund. Each member contributes the same amount of money to the fund each month. Then, each member in turn receives the money that has been collected.

    Host 1: And sometimes the group collects things other than money. They might also collect food, fertilizer, or tools.

    Host 2: And that reminds me of another type of farmers’ group. Several farmers get together and decide what supplies they need – maybe they need fertilizer. They combine their money and order a large quantity of fertilizer. When they order a large quantity, they can get a discount.

    Host 1: And of course, as we said before, farmers sometimes contribute their labour, instead of their money. They might get together to plough a field or re-build a home.

    Host 2: It seems that the list of support groups is as great as people’s imaginations.

    Host 1: It’s true. You know, we don’t always acknowledge these groups and the good work they are doing. But these groups and these people deserve some recognition and our support.

    Host 2: If you are involved in a support group that is helping people to make ends meet, please contact us here at the station. We’d like to hear about the ways that people in your community are helping each other. Please contact us at [Contact information – phone number and/or address – of radio station].

    – END –


    Examples of informal grassroots community organizations

    Burial societies
    Burial societies provide mutual assistance to members in rural areas in the event of death and illness. They offer a measure of financial security when a family member dies; they also provide some of the other social needs of their members. Burial society members might also devote part of their time to helping bereaved families by cultivating their fields. Burial societies work in different ways; sometimes there is spontaneous giving at the time of the death, or people make contributions over a period of time and at the time of the funeral the funds are made available.

    Savings clubs
    There are many variations of a savings club. Generally members hold a meeting to decide what they want to save for during a period of time, for example a year. They decide on their requirements for seed, fertilizer and insecticides. These supplies are then ordered in bulk to benefit from quantity discounts.

    Rotating savings and credit association (ROSCA)
    A ROSCA is a group of people who agree to make contributions to a fund which is given to each contributor in turn; each member makes the same contribution. After everyone has had their turn in receiving the contributions, the group may disband or start another cycle.

    Community grain banks
    A grain bank is a community-based institution run by a village or a group of villages. It is managed by a committee elected by the community. A grain bank can work in several different ways. It generally provides grain to people at prices they can afford when food supplies are low.

    Grain saving scheme (Zimbabawe)
    In the grain saving scheme the grain is produced for free by community labour. Contributions of seed and fertilizer are an integral part of the scheme, helping to ensure that the harvests are meaningful and can stretch a long way to assist needy households.


    -Contributed by Jennifer Pittet, Thornbury, Canada.
    -Reviewed by Gladys Mutangadura, Economic Affairs Officer, UNECA – Southern Africa Office, Zambia.

    Information Sources
    -Mutangadura, Gladys, et al. A review of household and community responses to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa. UNAIDS, 1999.
    -Schapink, Dick, et al. Rural workers’ contribution to the fight against HIV/AIDS: A framework for district and community action. Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, 2001.
    -Fall, Abdou. Cereal banks – at your service? The story of Toundeu-Patar: A village somewhere in the Sahel. Published by Oxfam on behalf of the Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN), 1991.