Vulnerabilities of children living with HIV positive adults

Children living with HIV-infected adults: estimates for 23 countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

Short SE, Goldberg RE. PLoS One. 2015 Nov 17; 10(11): e0142580.

Background: In sub-Saharan Africa many children live in extreme poverty and experience a burden of illness and disease that is disproportionately high. The emergence of HIV and AIDS has only exacerbated long-standing challenges to improving children's health in the region, with recent cohorts experiencing pediatric AIDS and high levels of orphan status, situations which are monitored globally and receive much policy and research attention. Children's health, however, can be affected also by living with HIV-infected adults, through associated exposure to infectious diseases and the diversion of household resources away from them. While long recognized, far less research has focused on characterizing this distinct and vulnerable population of HIV-affected children.

Methods: Using Demographic and Health Survey data from 23 countries collected between 2003 and 2011, we estimate the percentage of children living in a household with at least one HIV-infected adult. We assess overlaps with orphan status and investigate the relationship between children and the adults who are infected in their households.

Results: The population of children living in a household with at least one HIV-infected adult is substantial where HIV prevalence is high; in Southern Africa, the percentage exceeded 10% in all countries and reached as high as 36%. This population is largely distinct from the orphan population. Among children living in households with tested, HIV-infected adults, most live with parents, often mothers, who are infected; nonetheless, in most countries over 20% live in households with at least one infected adult who is not a parent.

Conclusion: Until new infections contract significantly, improvements in HIV/AIDS treatment suggest that the population of children living with HIV-infected adults will remain substantial. It is vital to on-going efforts to reduce childhood morbidity and mortality to consider whether current care and outreach sufficiently address the distinct vulnerabilities of these children.

Abstract [1] Full-text [free] access [2]

Editor’s notes: This paper is an important contribution to the literature on the impact of the HIV epidemic. Using Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) data from 23 countries it highlights the considerable number of children living with HIV-positive adults in sub-Saharan Africa. However, notable exceptions from the analysis (no DHS data available) included South Africa. This, coupled with specific issues related to DHS data collection methods and response rates, means that the number of children living with HIV-positive adults is much higher. Reductions in mortality from HIV due to increased treatment availability and the addition of adults newly acquiring HIV means that population of children living with an HIV-positive adult will continue to increase in the near future.

Children living with HIV-positive adults are clearly vulnerable and like all vulnerable children should be focussed on in efforts to promote child wellbeing. The authors suggest, however, that children living with HIV-positive adults may have distinct vulnerabilities that need to be considered. These include direct exposure to opportunistic infections, social stigma and disrupted networks, as well as increases in poverty. The challenge for many countries is how to identify these children and ensure that focussed programmes are delivered effectively.

Africa [9]
Burkina Faso [10], Burundi [11], Cameroon [12], Côte d'Ivoire [13], Democratic Republic of the Congo [14], Ethiopia [15], Ghana [16], Guinea [17], Kenya [18], Lesotho [19], Liberia [20], Malawi [21], Mali [22], Mozambique [23], Niger [24], Rwanda [25], Sao Tome and Principe [26], Senegal [27], Sierra Leone [28], Swaziland [29], United Republic of Tanzania [30], Zambia [31], Zimbabwe [32]
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