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Tuesday, 26 June, 2001, 11:26 GMT 12:26 UK
Caring for the Aids orphans

There are 14 million Aids orphans across Africa
By Ishbel Matheson in Nairobi

Outside the school gates, an elderly man waits for his grandson. As he stands there, he seems burdened with grief.

Over the past four years, David Massau, a retired security guard, has lost five of his children to Aids.

Little is said or heard of the problem of the aged

Father Angelo Dagostino
"It is so painful," he says. "Because its enough losing five children. And then the same children leave you with another lot. Then it's so painful."

Mr Massau is coming to terms with the fact that he will probably outlive the grandson he cares for as well. It is a heartbreaking situation but one which is not unusual.

Aids has already killed an estimated 22 million people - many of them in Africa. Most of those who die are in the prime of life - and they often leave behind children.

"The orphans have been able to get the limelight in the last few years, orphans through Aids, but little is said or heard of the problem of the aged," says Father Angelo Dagostino.

He runs a charity which helps needy families. Apart from the grief of bereavement, elderly people also face financial hardship.

Hard work

In a Nairobi slum, a children's choir booms out on the radio. The song tells of Kenya's struggle for independence.

But for 66-year-old Hannah Mukami, the struggle is for survival. She not only supports herself, she is the sole breadwinner for a staggering 18 grandchildren.

"Naturally, when a mother or a parent is bringing up children, she would have in mind that the children will take care of me during old age," she says. "But it so happened that problems came from all directions, even though that is a dream."

Visitors to Hannah Mukami's tin shack at lunchtime are confronted with a bewildering number of toddlers and teenagers, all waiting to be fed. Grandparents care for their grandchildren out of a sense of duty and love. They do the best they can, but it is difficult.

Already there are 14 million Aids orphans in Africa. As parents continue to die, the responsibility of raising the next generation will increasingly fall on the shoulders of a grandparent.

Unless help is given, it is a burden that many elderly people will find too heavy to bear.

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See also:

26 Jun 01 | Americas
Africa calls for help fighting Aids
25 Jun 01 | Africa
Kenya accused over Aids orphans
19 Apr 01 | Africa
SA victory in Aids drugs case
23 Nov 99 | Health
HIV hits 50 million
25 Jun 01 | Africa
How to spend Aids fund
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