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Press Release

December 18, 2008 
Millions of orphans, vulnerable children

Calverton, MD. New estimates of the orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) in sub-Saharan Africa paint a stark picture of the heavy burden borne by Africa’s youngest citizens. The scope of the problem is enormous, with more than 6 million OVC in Tanzania and Uganda, more than 3 million in Cameroon, Kenya and Zimbabwe, slightly less than 3 million in Côte d'Ivoire and Malawi, and a half million in Lesotho, according to a new study.  

In addition to measuring the scope of this crisis, Orphans and Vulnerable Children in High HIV-Prevalence Countries in Sub-Saharan Africa looks closely at the well-being of this vulnerable population. Compared to children living with both parents, OVC suffer specific disadvantages. They are less likely to attend school than non-OVC when they become adolescents, perhaps because they cannot afford school fees, they need to help with housework, or they must care for sick parents or younger siblings. However, in an encouraging find, they are as or more likely than non-OVC to attend school between the ages of 5 and 14.  

For the first time, this study examines some specific challenges confronting orphans and vulnerable adolescents. Adolescent OVC, especially girls, are less likely to refrain from sexual activity than non-OVC adolescents. Nonetheless, OVC are not necessarily more prone to other risky sexual behaviors or to sexual exploitation.  

The study also finds that orphans are less likely than non-orphans to sleep under a mosquito net, a major method of preventing malaria.  

Few families affected by HIV make plans for the future care and upbringing of their children, according to the study. Not only is such succession planning lacking, but there is also little support for families struggling to care for orphans and vulnerable children.

 The study also looked at whether or not children’s basic materials needs are met, that is, they have at least one pair of shoes, two sets of clothes, and a blanket or sheet. In two countries with available data, Cote d’Ivoire and Zimbabwe, similar proportions of OVC and non-OVC have their basic material needs met. However, in households with both orphans and non-orphans, orphans are somewhat less likely to have basic material needs met than non-orphans in both countries.  

These findings show pressing needs to strengthen welfare programs for struggling households in sub-Saharan Africa, especially with regards to education, malaria prevention, and adolescent sexual health for OVC.

The data come from eight nationally-representative Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) and AIDS Indicator Surveys (AIS) conducted between 2003 and 2006 that included HIV testing of adult women and men. Orphans include children who have lost a mother or a father or both parents. The study used a broad, all-encompassing definition of vulnerable children, including children who are fostered, living in a household with a chronically-ill adult or a recent adult death, living in a household with one or more HIV-infected adults, living in a household with no adults, or living in a household with other orphans. The analysis excludes street children and children living in institutions, but this exclusion is unlikely to alter the study’s findings due to the small proportions of such children in the total population.