Drs. Darshini Govindasamy, Angela Kaida, and Nwabisa Shai received Canadian funding to study the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the health, social and economic well-being of both South African children and adolescents living with HIV, and their unpaid caregivers. Photo: Freepik

International team to study impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on women caregivers of South African children and adolescents living with HIV

January 25, 2023

by Sharon Mah

The international team of Drs. Darshini Govindasamy, Angela Kaida, and Nwabisa Shai received a research award of nearly $1 million (CAD) from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC). The award was issued through a new Canadian initiative, Women’s health and economic empowerment for a COVID-19 Recovery that is inclusive, sustainable and equitable, or Women RISE/Les femmes S’ÉLÈVANT.

Recognizing that the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately negatively impacted the livelihoods and health of women while concurrently increasing their burden as caregivers, Women RISE seeks to collect evidence of best practices, policies and interventions that improve the health and social and economic well-being of women, thereby preparing women around the globe to better weather future health emergencies.  

The project pairs a principal investigator (PI) from a low- or middle-income country (LMIC) with a Canadian co-principal investigator and at least one decision-maker co-principal investigator to study the relationships between women’s work and health before, during, and after COVID-19. The generated evidence will inform immediate and medium-term solutions for post-COVID-19 recovery that improve gender equality and health equity outcomes.

Govindasamy, a specialist scientist in health economics at the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC), will lead the project – “Strengthening the Impact of South Africa's COVID-19 Social Relief Distress Grant Among Unpaid Caregivers of Adolescents Living with HIV alongside Kaida, a professor in global health based at Simon Fraser University’s Faculty of Health Sciences. Shai, a specialist scientist in gender-based violence at SAMRC, is the project’s co-PI.

The project will implement a cluster-randomised trial (CWEL+) to compare two groups – a control group receiving a cash transfer versus an intervention group receiving a cash transfer plus a gender-transformative economic livelihoods intervention. Investigators will assess the intervention to see if it significantly improves the psychological well-being and gender equality among woman caregivers of children and adolescents living with HIV (CALHIV) in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Embedded within the trial is a qualitative study that seeks to explore caregivers’ experiences of wellbeing and gender inequity and an economic evaluation that will provide data on the costs and cost-effectiveness of this intervention.

“We are very excited to be leading this initiative with our collaborators as well as mentoring the next generation of scientists on this project,” says Govindasamy.

“Adolescents living with HIV are among the most vulnerable HIV-affected group globally,” says Kaida. “Their health and survival depends heavily on the well-being of unpaid caregivers, who are overwhelmingly women. We need gender transformative solutions that value the role of caregivers and help to advance gender equity, economic empowerment, and health.”

Govindasamy, Kaida, and Shai hope that their work will contribute to the creation of policy and actions that will address existing health and economic inequities for populations that are already challenged by HIV. “We’re pleased to be able to collect evidence that will be used to improve health outcomes for South Africans and improve the inclusivity of existing health policies.” says Govindasamy. “It is our hope that the tools and ideas developed through the Women RISE project will improve equity and resiliency for women and children globally.”

This project is part of the 2022 Women RISE/Les femmes S’ÉLÈVANT initiative of the International Development Research Centre