Poverty, AIDS and child health: Identifying highest-risk children in South Africa
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Background: Identifying children at the highest risk of negative health effects is a prerequisite to effective public health policies in Southern Africa. A central ongoing debate is whether poverty, orphanhood or parental AIDS most reliably indicates child health risks. Attempts to address this key question have been constrained by a lack of data allowing distinction of AIDS-specific parental death or morbidity from other causes of orphanhood and chronic illness. Objectives: To examine whether household poverty, orphanhood and parental illness (by AIDS or other causes) independently or interactively predict child health, developmental and HIV-infection risks. Methods: We interviewed 6 002 children aged 10 - 17 years in 2009 - 2011, using stratified random sampling in six urban and rural sites across three South African provinces. Outcomes were child mental health risks, educational risks and HIV-infection risks. Regression models that controlled for socio-demographic co-factors tested potential impacts and interactions of poverty, AIDS-specific and other orphanhood and parental illness status. Results: Household poverty independently predicted child mental health and educational risks, AIDS orphanhood independently predicted mental health risks and parental AIDS illness independently predicted mental health, educational and HIV-infection risks. Interaction effects of poverty with AIDS orphanhood and parental AIDS illness were found across all outcomes. No effects, or interactions with poverty, were shown by AIDS-unrelated orphanhood or parental illness.Conclusions: The identification of children at highest risk requires recognition and measurement of both poverty and parental AIDS. This study shows negative impacts of poverty and AIDS-specific vulnerabilities distinct from orphanhood and adult illness more generally. Additionally, effects of interaction between family AIDS and poverty suggest that, where these co-exist, children are at highest risk of all.
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