AIDS Deaths Disrupt Family Relationships in Uganda The HIV/AIDS epidemic that swept across Africa in the 1980s has undermined the usual social safety net in Uganda. Older people who once were looked after by their children are now on their own after the loss of a generation to AIDS.
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AIDS Deaths Disrupt Family Relationships in Uganda

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AIDS Deaths Disrupt Family Relationships in Uganda

AIDS Deaths Disrupt Family Relationships in Uganda

AIDS Deaths Disrupt Family Relationships in Uganda

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Mary Namutebbe and her granddaughter Sanda Nanteza Jason Beaubien, NPR hide caption

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Jason Beaubien, NPR

Mary Namutebbe and her granddaughter Sanda Nanteza

Jason Beaubien, NPR

Mary Namutebbe and the 10 grandchildren she cares for live in a one-room hut in a slum on the outskirts of Kampala. Jason Beaubien, NPR hide caption

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Jason Beaubien, NPR

Mary Namutebbe and the 10 grandchildren she cares for live in a one-room hut in a slum on the outskirts of Kampala.

Jason Beaubien, NPR

The HIV/AIDS epidemic that swept across Africa in the 1980s has undermined the usual social safety net in Uganda.

In the 1990s, more than 100,000 people in Uganda were dying of AIDS each year, according to government statistics. Given the stigma attached to the disease, the actual death toll may have been even higher. Most of those casualties were young adults.

Deborah Kaijuka, the head of the Uganda Reach the Aged Association, says that 30 years ago it would have been unusual to find elderly Ugandans living alone or living with a group of small children.

Now it happens regularly. Kaijuka says this is due in part to modernization and urbanization. But she says AIDS also has played a huge role. In the past, she says, there was almost always somebody to look after an older person.

But as AIDS has killed hundreds of thousands of adults, some of the most productive members of those extended families simply no longer exist.

Mary Namutebbe isn't sure how old she is. She thinks she's 80. She is sure however that she never expected her old age would be like this.

Sitting in a one-room hut in a slum on the outskirts of the Ugandan capital Kampala, Namutebbe says she's destitute, helpless and trying to raise 10 grandchildren.

Namutebbe is in this position, she says, because all 14 of her children have now passed away, some of them to AIDS.

Namutebbe says she's been left alone in the world to look after all of her grandchildren.

She says she survives by making pancakes and roasting ears of corn. Namutebbe sends the grandchildren to sell the food along the busy main road into Kampala.

Uganda has free universal primary education — a rarity in sub-Saharan Africa — but Namutebbe says only four of the kids go to school because she needs the others to work.

Namutebbe feels she's alone and abandoned in her old age — a situation hundreds of thousands of other older Ugandans also unexpectedly find themselves in.