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Care and secrecy: being a mother of children living with HIV in Burkina Faso

Publication year
Hejoaka, F.

Home care has become a central component of the response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, displacing caregiving work onto women. While increasing interest has been paid to HIV/AIDS care with a focus on ailing adults and orphan foster care, the issue of caring for children living with HIV has received little attention in the social sciences. Based on ethnographic material gathered in Burkina Faso between November 2005 and December 2006, the aim of this paper was to gain understanding of women who mother and care for children living with HIV in resource-limited countries. The study involved participant observation in community-based organizations in Burkina Faso and semi-structured interviews with 20 women mothering HIV-positive children as well as 15 children infected with HIV, aged between 8 and 18 years. In daily care mothers face many great challenges, ranging from the routine of pill-taking to disturbing discussions with children asking questions about their health or treatment. The results also show how HIV/AIDS-related stigma adds an additional layer to the burden of care, compelling mothers to deal with the tension between secrecy surrounding the disease and the openness required in providing care and receiving social support. As mothers live in fear of disclosure, they have to develop concealment strategies around children’s treatment and the nature of the disease. Conversely, some mothers may share their secret with kin members, close relatives or their children to gain social support. As HIV/AIDS care is shaped by secrecy, these findings shed light on mothers’ isolation in child care within a context of changing patterns of family bonds and lack of formal psychosocial support addressing child-related issues. Finally, women’s engagement in child care invites us to look beyond the essentialist approach of women’s vulnerability conveyed by international discourse to characterise the situation of women facing the HIV/AIDS impact.

Research abstracts