Culture, health & sexuality 2017 07 25() 1-14 doi 10.1080/13691058.2017.1340670
Older adults have been largely overlooked in community studies of HIV in highly endemic African countries. In our rural study site in Mpumalanga Province, South Africa, HIV prevalence among those aged 50 and older is 16.5%, suggesting that older adults are at risk of both acquiring and transmitting HIV. This paper utilises community-based focus-group interviews with older rural South African men and women to better understand the normative environment in which they come to understand and make decisions about their health as they age in an HIV endemic setting. We analyse the dimensions of an inductively emerging theme: ku ti hlayisa (to take care of yourself). For older adults, ‘taking care’ in an age of AIDS represented: (1) an individualised pathway to achieving old-age respectability through the taking up of responsibilities and behaviours that characterise being an older person, (2) a set of gendered norms and strategies for reducing one’s HIV risk, and (3) a shared responsibility for attenuating the impact of the HIV epidemic in the local community. Findings reflect the individual, interdependent and communal ways in which older rural South Africans understand HIV risk and prevention, ways that also map onto current epidemiological thinking for improving HIV-related outcomes in high-prevalence settings.