Virginia Chavango, 77 who lives in Ribangua of the Gaza province first heard of the CoVID19 disease while at the clinic where she had taken her grandchild living with HIV for routine check-up.
While the doctor who broke to her the news about the new disease might have had good intentions, this however elicited unintended effects on Chavango.
“I was also told to avoid crowded areas now that I am an older person. The new development got me so scared. I did not know what to do and even how to reach home now that I was in a crowded hospital,” Chavango said.
The doctor advised her to avoid unnecessary movements, wear masks at all times, wash hands often with water and soap.
The doctor told her that the disease is contracted through coming into contact with the infected and that she needs to be careful with anyone who shows flu-like symptoms such as coughing, and fever.
Since then, Chavango has become a worried person considering that she is the closet relative to her orphaned young grandchildren.
“I am worried about my grandchildren since they have no other one to support them should anything happen to me. I have decided not to visit anyone’s house lest I get infected. No one can tell where a neighbour might have visited,” she said.
Besides the worries about COVID-19, the pandemic has made life extremely unbearable for Chavango and her elderly neighbours.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, neighbours have become reluctant to visit each other, yet for an older person like Chavango, their lies revolve around the support given by the neighbours. Such support includes fetching water and firewood miles away from their homesteads.
“Even to walk out of the house, I get so scared that I have to use my head scarf to cover my mouth and nose. Even farming has been affected since I got so scared to go out to the field.” She said adding that the disease has affected her family a lot.
“I find myself controlling my grandchildren a lot so they don’t leave the house. But it hasn’t been easy,” she confesses.
Born in Chobuicusso village, Chavango has over the past 10 years lived with her three orphaned grandchildren, the oldest of who is 14 years old and in the fourth grade.
Like most of her age-mates, Chavango has lived a simple life, eking out living as peasant farmer where she grows crops.
She complements the income by going to the riverine to harvest reeds that she sells to women who weave baskets. The money she earns from these ventures is able to buy stationary for her school goring grandchildren.
“Life has not been easy for me and I have struggled to support my grandchildren, including meeting the nutritional needs of the child living with the HIV,” says Chavango.
Chavango is however grateful that she is a beneficiary of the Basic Social Subsid (SSB), one of the pensions schemes in Mozambique.
The SSB subsystem is a redistributive instrument, financed by the State budget, and regulated by Decree 47/2018.
It took the Irish Aid- funded project like the AFFORD (Accountability and Fulfilment for Older People to Raise their Dignity) to usher Chavango and many like her into the financial assistance.
Through the AFFORD programme, HelpAge has been working to raise awareness with the local communities about HIV and other key health issues affecting older people in Malavela, Manhiça District, Maputo province.
The partner organisation, ACIDECO, is supporting older people to access health and HIV/Aids services and to break down the stigma and misinformation about ageing and HIV.
Older people are often excluded from HIV/Aids responses in Mozambique, due to age-based discrimination and the belief that HIV/Aids only effects those of reproductive age.
“One thing am happy about is that through the AFFORD project and as part of the Older People Association, I have learned about my rights to health and how to access it for free,” said Chavango.
The SSB consists of monthly regular monetary transfers for an indefinite period, to people living in a situation of poverty and vulnerability, including the older people. The value of the transfer varies between Mt 540 and Mt 1000, depending on the size of the household.
According to government documents, there are about 1.25 million older people in a country of 31 million people, which is equivalent to 4.5% of the population. Only a handful receive the pension and Chavango is among the lucky ones.
Kizito Chiwala, Country Director, HelpAge International said that although assistance in old-age, and social security, are rights enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic and the Social Protection Law, five in ten of the older people do not have access to an old-age pension.
Changed relations with neighbours
When she returned home from the clinic, Chavango found out that her neighbours had also received the news about COVID-19. She was told the neighbourhood Secretary went around speaking of the new disease and advised how older people could prevent infections.
But the prohibitive costs of the Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) implies that people like Chavango, whose incomes is hardly enough to meet their needs may not afford to get them, even soaps and masks.
The simplest PPEs consisting of a mask and soap are estimated at USD1, but this is hard to come by now that no one is doing anything, let alone stepping out of the homes.
Recently, her grandson left home to go to town with the hope of getting a better life. His departure has now meant that Chavango does all the household chores.
“He used to help me a lot with these chores when I step out in the farm or market. Now however, I have assumed the role of the father and mother of the remaining three young grandchildren. I have to do all I can to get fees for their education, money for food and health,” she said.
She is however grateful to the AFFORD Programme which rose up to the COVID-19 challenge to offer older people and their families like hers support.
“Through the ACIDECO, my grandchildren are benefitting from the government in terms of food and protective equipment,” said Chavango.
About HelpAge International
HelpAge International is a global network of organisations promoting the right of all older people to lead dignified, healthy and secure lives. Our mission is to promote the wellbeing and inclusion of older women and men, and to reduce poverty and discrimination in later life.
Source: HENRY NEONDO