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Orphanhood, child fostering and the AIDS epidemic in rural Tanzania

Urassa M,  Boerma JT, Ng'weshemi JZL, Isingo R, Schapink D and Kumogola Y.

Health Transition Review, Supplement 2 to Volume 7, 1997, pp. 141-153


The AIDS epidemic has caused an increase in adult mortality and consequently an increase in the numbers of orphaned children. Data were used from the Kisesa Community Study in northwest Tanzania, to assess the prevalence and consequences of orphanhood in the context of existing child care practices in a rural area with moderately high HIV-prevalence. This study was carried out in a ward with about 20,000 people with HIV prevalence of 6.2 per cent among adults 15-44 years and slightly over one-third of adult deaths associated with HIV/AIDS.
Seven point six per cent of children under 15 and 8.9 per cent of children under 18 had lost one or both parents. Child fostering was very common. Virtually all orphans and foster-children were cared for by members of the extended family, often the maternal grandparents: 14 per cent of households had at least one orphan. Such households did not have a lower economic status, but had a less favourable dependency ratio. Households with orphans were also more likely to be female-headed. Follow-up mortality rates were similar among orphans, foster-children and other children, for both sexes. Mobility was much higher among orphans and foster-children, and orphans and foster-children had somewhat lower school attendance rates: lower enrolment and higher dropout rates.
The problem of rapidly increasing numbers of orphans needs to be considered in the context of previously high levels of adult mortality, child-fostering practices and general poverty. The extended family seems to be able to absorb the increase in orphans, because caring for children of other members of the family is widespread, whether the parents are alive or dead. This study yields no evidence that orphans as a group are disadvantaged, although certain subgroups of orphans or orphan households may be more vulnerable and in need of support.



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