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Vulnerable Child Youth Stud. 2013 Dec 1;8(4). doi: 10.1080/17450128.2012.748237.

Household dynamics and socioeconomic conditions in the context of incident adolescent orphaning in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

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Boston University School of Public Health, Center for Global Health and Development, Boston, Massachusetts, United States.


We compared demographics, socioeconomic status, and food insecurity between households with and without recent orphans in a region of high HIV/AIDS mortality in South Africa. We recruited a cohort of 197 recent orphans and 528 non-orphans ages 9-15 and their households using stratified cluster sampling. Households were classified into three groups: orphan-only (N=50); non-orphan-only (N=377); and mixed (N=210). Between September 2004 and May 2007, households were interviewed three times regarding demographics, income and assets, and food insecurity. Baseline bivariate associations were assessed using chi-square- and t-tests. Longitudinal bivariate associations and multivariate models were tested using generalized estimating equations. At baseline, mixed households generally exhibited greater characteristics of vulnerability than orphan and non-orphan households. They were larger, had older, less educated household heads, and reported a much smaller annual per capita income. Orphan households were more likely to report a death in the previous year, and less likely to have an adult employed. These differences persisted over the study. Even non-orphan households exhibited characteristics of vulnerability, with 14% reporting a death one year before baseline, 45% of whom were prime-age adults. At baseline, a much smaller proportion of orphan households reported receiving the child support grant than the other household types, but notably, there were no differences among households in receipt of the grant by Round 3. Household food insecurity was highly prevalent: more than one in five orphan-only and mixed households reported being food insecure in the previous month. These findings suggest that the effects of HIV/AIDS only exacerbate existing high levels of poverty in the district, as virtually all households are vulnerable regardless of orphan status. Community-level programs must help families address a spectrum of needs, including food security, caregiving, and financial support, as well as better target social welfare grants and make them more accessible to vulnerable households.


HIV/AIDS; South Africa; adolescents; food insecurity; households; orphans; socioeconomic status

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