02 December 2010

Aids: the hidden impact on SA children

Children who care for parents with Aids have a higher level of mental illness, a recent study found.


December 1st is World Aids day. There are 33.4 million people worldwide living with HIV, 67% in the Sub-Saharan Africa region. In South Africa alone, 5.6 million people are HIV-positive, with only 22% having access to anti-retroviral medication. A pioneering study, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and the South African National Research Foundation, finds that those children who care for parents with Aids have a higher level of mental illness.

With an overburdened health system, many patients remain at home, where their children take responsibility for their care. For these children, orphanhood is not a single acute event, but a process preceded by a parent's chronic and debilitating illness. Early findings indicate that amongst children living with Aids-sick adults, 25% do more than three hours of care work per day. In addition, a third undertake medical tasks such as dressing wounds, bathing and toileting the sick person, far higher proportions than amongst children caring for other-sick parents or guardians.

The young carers' education can also be affected with 41% missing school to care for the sick person. They are also more likely to be bullied at school, stigmatised in the community and exposed to emotional and physical abuse at home. Children who care for parents that are sick with Aids and Aids-orphaned children show higher levels of psychological disorder, with strong linkages to the depression and anxiety experienced by their caregivers. As one seventeen-year-old boy in the study said; "I look at my mother and I see she is sick. I worry that she is going to die just like my father." - (EurekAlert!, December 2010)


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Dr Sindisiwe van Zyl qualified at the University of Pretoria in 2005. She is a patients' rights activist and loves using social media to teach about HIV. She is in private practice in Johannesburg.

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