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Are adolescent orphans more likely to be HIV-positive? A pooled data analyses across 19 countries in sub-Saharan Africa


Background Despite extensive resources and numerous programmes directed towards orphans in sub-Saharan Africa, evidence of their disadvantage is surprisingly limited. While initial research suggests that orphans are at greater risk of being HIV-positive, the evidence is limited in geographic scope.

Methods To rigorously test disparities in HIV prevalence related to orphanhood and parental HIV status in sub-Saharan Africa, we used Demographic and Health Survey data from 19 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. We conducted pooled multilevel logistic regression on adolescents aged 15–17 years with HIV test results (N=22 837 girls and 20 452 boys).

Results Regardless of their gender, orphans who lost their mother, lost both parents or had an HIV-infected mother were two to three times more likely to test positive for HIV infection (ORs 1.87–3.17). The loss of a father was also associated with HIV infection risk for females, but of slightly lower magnitude (OR 1.63).

Conclusions To better inform interventions, future research is needed to quantify the relative contribution of perinatally-acquired and sexually-acquired infections, and to investigate the specific mechanisms that may account for disparities in the latter. In the meantime, programmes serving HIV-infect adults as well as those serving orphaned and vulnerable children should invest in family-based HIV testing in order to identify adolescents in need of treatment.

  • HIV

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