HIV and AIDS in Southern Africa

HIV and AIDS in Southern Africa

As well as addressing HIV and AIDS through its health programmes, we are calling for action on:

  • understanding HIV as a gender issue with a disproportionate impact on women and girls
  • recognising the contribution of thousands of informal caregivers
  • pushing for countries to meet international standards for HIV testing and treatment in prisons

Women and girls: An unfair burden

VSO accepts that HIV and AIDS is a gender issue; as the pandemic has reached a critical level, women are being particularly affected. They are more vulnerable to infection and also carry a greater burden of caring for people with HIV and AIDS.

In 2007, 59 per cent of positive people in sub-Saharan Africa were women. But because women are not necessarily seen as equal to men, they often do not receive the same information that can help them protect themselves against infection. Many women experience violence and rape, and are not always in a position to negotiate safe sex with their partners. This inequality also means that they are not as likely to receive treatment and care when it is available.

Communities are responding to the critical shortage of trained healthworkers by caring for the sick themselves, but it is women and girls, traditionally the carers in these societies, who bear the brunt of this difficult and stressful work. Moreover, they often do not get paid, receive training or recognition for this work. Caring for the sick means many women are prevented from continuing their education or pursuing paid work.

VSO has produced a number of briefing and position papers on the issue, including:

Caregivers and their role in mitigating the impact of HIV and AIDS

VSO (through VSO RHAISA) has championed the recognition of women, as well as men, in doing care work to mitigate the impact of HIV & AIDS. In collaboration with SADC Parliamentary Forum, VSO RHAISA managed to engage parliamentarians of formulating care givers policies in their countries. Critical is the engagement and support of Parliamentarian Volunteers from the UK and Ireland. Baroness Margaret Jay, for example, was placed within RHAISA to support and train Parliamentarians at SADC on policy formulation.

In 2014 VSO placed Baroness Elizabeth Barker to train parliamentarians on policy formulation, focusing in particular on child marriages which a key sexual and reproductive health issue in southern Africa.

Prison health

VSO RHAISA's current strategy, focuses on health among prisoners as well as other key populations like migrant mine workers. Prison health is critical as an advocacy issue for VSO since research has shown that whilst prisons have higher rates of HIV infection, there is yet little access to treatment and testing. There are legal instruments that countries in Southern Africa have ratified like SADC minimum standards for prisons, however, the countries in the region are not implementing them. VSO advocates for implementation of these standards in order to increase access to medication, treatment and prevention intervention in prisons.


The Regional Health and AIDS Initiative for Southern Africa (RHAISA), is VSO’s flagship programme championing a regional response to HIV and AIDS in southern Africa.

VSO RHAISA co-ordinates regional engagement with government and civil society actors and operate in Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe from the VSO RHAISA office in Pretoria, South Africa