The influence of orphan care and other household shocks on health status over time: a longitudinal study in rural Malawi

Title: The influence of orphan care and other household shocks on health status over time: a longitudinal study in rural Malawi

Author: Megan Littrell, Neil W Boris, Lisanne Brown, Michael Hill, Kate Macintyre

Date: 2011

Abstract: In the context of rising rates of orphanhood in AIDS-affected settings, very little is understood about implications for caregiver well-being given increasing and intensifying responsibilities for the care of orphaned children. Emotional distress and self-reported health status as well as shifts in household orphan care, wealth, food security and recent illness and death among household members were measured among a panel of 1219 caregivers in rural Malawi between 2007 and 2009. Logistic regression was used to identify predictors of improved and diminished caregiver health and emotional distress. Results suggest that becoming an orphan caregiver is associated with a shift from good to poor health status (adjusted odds ratio AOR=2.29, 95% confidence interval CI=1.16-4.54), and that elevated levels of distress and poor health both persist over time in comparison with care for non-orphans only. Once engaged in orphan care, taking on additional orphans is associated with increased emotional distress in relation to not caring for orphans (AOR=3.16, 95% CI=1.30-7.73) as well as in relation to maintaining the same number of orphans in care over time (AOR=2.84, 95% CI=1.04-7.70). In addition, findings illustrate the strong influence of household wealth and food security on caregiver well-being. Food insecurity and poverty that persist or develop over time are associated with increasing distress. Conversely, maintenance or improvement in food security and household wealth are associated with decreases in distress. Providing all aspects of household maintenance and care for children, primary caregivers are key to the extended family solution for orphaned and vulnerable children. Bolstering the foundation of rural African families to ensure care and protection of these children involves targeting support to orphan caregivers but must also include addressing the issues of poverty and food insecurity that pose a wider threat to caregiving capacity.

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