Landmark new policy to protect tens of thousands of women HIV carers across Zimbabwe

Landmark new policy to protect tens of thousands of women HIV carers across Zimbabwe

A new health policy protecting the rights of community caregivers will help tens of thousands of women caring for people with HIV, Zimbabwe’s Deputy Prime Minister Ms Thokozani Khupe will say at a conference hosted by VSO today (Tuesday 6 November) in Pretoria, South Africa.

The Ministry of Health in Zimbabwe plans to implement the policy from the beginning of 2013 by training carers, providing them with health kits and recognising their right to remuneration. They will also be working with NGOs and community organisations to mobilise men to care for the sick, reducing the burden on women.

Increasingly across sub Saharan Africa, the parents, children and neighbours of people living with HIV and AIDS are taking on the burden of caring for them. Most of these caregivers are women and girls. In Zimbabwe, 76% of children who drop out of school to care for their families are girls (1). In addition to losing out on an education to help their households survive, many then have to work as house servants, are married off or become sex-workers in order to make a living. (2) A great deal of care is also provided by older people with limited incomes, less knowledge of antiretroviral (ART) drugs and more physical and health problems.

VSO believes this is one of many ways governments across southern Africa can empower women and girls, who account for at least 73% of the local volunteers caring for sick people in their communities. (3) One of the commitments of the policy is also to encourage and mobilise men to play a more active role in caregiving.

VSO Regional AIDS Initiative of Southern Africa (VSO RAISA) has called for this policy since 2010. The organisation is campaigning across southern Africa and hopes that similar policies could be introduced in Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa. A conference on 21 November 2012 will bring together the health ministers and parliamentarians from the six countries to encourage them to develop similar policies to Zimbabwe.

Bongai Mundeta, Director of VSO RAISA, said:

“The rights of care providers, most of whom are women and girls working voluntarily, are unrecognised, hardly supported and not respected across many countries in southern Africa.

“I have met women who have been abused by their families because they couldn’t earn a living and girls who missed out on an education in order to care for others.

“This is made worse by the poverty affecting the people they care for, who often ask them for food, medicine and money they don’t have. These volunteers are filling a workforce shortage in the health service and they should receive training, compensation for their time and basic treatment kits.

“We need governments, donors and civil society to work together to implement policies that will give care givers this protection and support. I am pleased this work has started in Zimbabwe, but more must now be done to develop policies like this across the region.”

Research in 2010 found that caregivers are not only putting their health at risk through lack of training – for instance in the importance of wearing gloves and the threat of infection through blood - but are also becoming further impoverished themselves  as a result of providing unpaid voluntary care for people living with HIV and AIDS.

Over one third of new HIV infections and over two thirds of all people living with HIV are in sub Saharan Africa. Women account for half the people living with HIV worldwide and nearly 60 per cent of those infected are in sub Saharan Africa. (4) 

Zimbabwe’s Deputy Prime Minister Ms Thokozani Khupe, said:

“More work must be done across all public areas to empower women and I am pleased to announce this new policy to support and protect those who care for people living with HIV and AIDS.

“Not only will this policy put procedures in place that ensure care givers receive training to protect them from infection, but we will also work with NGOs, international donors and the private sector to further support them with stipends and income generation activities.” 

Sixty year old Betty Chinhaire discovered she was HIV positive in 2001, after contracting the illness from her husband, and has worked as a home based carer on the outskirts of Harare for more than ten years. Though home-based care was recommended for her husband when he first tested positive, there wasn’t a single person trained in her community to offer home-based care. In addition she had to cope with poor access to information and ARV medication and widespread stigma attached to HIV.

She said: “I volunteered as a caregiver after seeing that many people were dying at home without any help. My work has managed to raise a lot of awareness in the community, and by encouraging people to get tested, we are saving more lives.” 

Today she supports a number of people living with HIV and child-headed households in her community, supporting them with nutritional support, ideas for income-generating activities and medical assistance. Betty identified HIV symptoms in a six year old girl called Mercy, who received lifesaving hospital support after she took her to the hospital. 

“Mercy is from a child headed household, so I am more like a parent for her now, I help her with food, clothing and take her to the clinic”, adds Betty. Delighted with news of the policy approval, Betty says, “Things will change for us now, because we are now recognised; an official relationship between us and government health services will make a big difference.” 


Editor's notes

Interviews with VSO RAISA spokespeople, home based caregivers who will benefit from the policy, and with Zimbabwean officials responsible for the policy, can all be arranged by the VSO media team.

For more media information and interviews please contact:

Susannah Taw, VSO Media team, +44 (0)20 8780 7621 or +44 (0)7500 918478 


1) Women Bailing Out the State, ActionAid study on Home based care in four southern African countries, 2006 
2) VSO RAISA Regional Conference 2007 Report, Professor Michael Kell y’s opening address. 
3) Scaling up HIV and AIDS prevention, treatment, care and support in community and home based care programmes by reducing the burden of HIV and AIDS care on women, girls and older carers in SADC, VSO RAISA and WHO report, 2010 
4) GEMSA and VSO RAISA, Making Carework Count, Policy Handbook, 2010

About VSO: 

VSO is different from most organisations that fight poverty. Instead of sending money or food, we bring people together to share skills and knowledge. In doing so, we create lasting change. VSO volunteers work in whatever fields are necessary to address the forces that keep people in poverty – from education and health through helping people learn the skills they need to make a living. In doing so they invest in local people, so the impact they have endures long after their placement ends.