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Psychiatry Conference 2019: The mental health of orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) impacted by parental HIV/AIDS: A sample from rural South Africa



In two studies, we assessed several indicators of psychological health and coping resources in a sample of orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) impacted by parental HIV/AIDS, who were recruited from an NGO-supported program in South Africa. The participants included 119 children (ages 6-10) and 175 adolescents (ages 11-18) from a low-resource rural community, and consisted of three groups: non-orphans (OVC1) who were the comparison group, orphans due to AIDS (OVC2), and orphans by other causes (OVC3).  Parents of children in OVC1 and legal guardians of OVC2 and OVC3 rated their children on age appropriate 112-item Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL), South Africa version. 

The adolescents rated themselves on the CBCL/Youth Self-Report and The Children’s Coping Strategies Checklist (CCSC).  The results indicated that children in OVC2 group were significantly different on the CBCL scales from their peers in OVC1 and OVC3, with a higher proportion of OVC2 at the borderline to the clinical score range for Internalizing problems and Somatization.  Females had elevated scores on the Anxious/Depressed, Internalizing and Total Problems compared to males. There was an interaction between factors, such that boys in OVC2 had elevated mean scores on Somatic Complaints. These findings were relatively similar for the adolescent participants. 

On coping, group status was not predictive of coping strategy, but active coping strategy negatively predicted Internalizing, Externalizing, and general psychological problems, whereas Avoidant coping positively predicted general psychological problems. These findings suggest that participants who are orphaned by AIDS are at an increased risk of emotional problems that warrant attention, and there are gender differential outcomes that may have cultural implications. The findings may offer a viable rationale for the inclusion of mental health screening and coping resources in the protocol of welfare agencies that provide services to the OVC.   

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