Correlates of poor health among orphans and abandoned children in less wealthy countries: the importance of caregiver health.


BACKGROUND: More than 153 million children worldwide have been orphaned by the loss of one or both parents, and millions more have been abandoned. We investigated relationships between the health of orphaned and abandoned children (OAC) and child, caregiver, and household characteristics among randomly selected OAC in five countries. METHODOLOGY: Using a two-stage random sampling strategy in 6 study areas in Cambodia, Ethiopia, India, Kenya, and Tanzania, the Positive Outcomes for Orphans (POFO) study identified 1,480 community-living OAC ages 6 to 12. Detailed interviews were conducted with 1,305 primary caregivers at baseline and after 6 and 12 months. Multivariable logistic regression models describe associations between the characteristics of children, caregivers, and households and child health outcomes: fair or poor child health; fever, cough, or diarrhea within the past two weeks; illness in the past 6 months; and fair or poor health on at least two assessments. PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: Across the six study areas, 23% of OAC were reported to be in fair or poor health; 19%, 18%, and 2% had fever, cough, or diarrhea, respectively, within the past two weeks; 55% had illnesses within the past 6 months; and 23% were in fair or poor health on at least two assessments. Female gender, suspected HIV infection, experiences of potentially traumatic events, including the loss of both parents, urban residence, eating fewer than 3 meals per day, and low caregiver involvement were associated with poorer child health outcomes. Particularly strong associations were observed between child health measures and the health of their primary caregivers. CONCLUSIONS: Poor caregiver health is a strong signal for poor health of OAC. Strategies to support OAC should target the caregiver-child dyad. Steps to ensure food security, foster gender equality, and prevent and treat traumatic events are needed.





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Publication Info

Thielman, Nathan, Jan Ostermann, Kathryn Whetten, Rachel Whetten, Karen O'Donnell and undefined Positive Outcomes for Orphans Research Team (2012). Correlates of poor health among orphans and abandoned children in less wealthy countries: the importance of caregiver health. PLoS One, 7(6). p. e38109. 10.1371/journal.pone.0038109 Retrieved from

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Nathan Maclyn Thielman

Professor of Medicine

Broadly, my research focuses on a range of clinical and social issues that affect persons living with or at risk for HIV infection in resource-poor settings. In Tanzania, our group is applying novel methods to optimize HIV testing uptake among high-risk groups. We recently demonstrated that the Discrete Choice Experiment (DCE), a form of stated preference survey research, is a robust tool for identifying (a) which characteristics of HIV testing options are most preferred by different populations and (b) which tradeoffs individuals make in evaluating testing options. Building on more than a decade of productive HIV testing research in the Kilimanjaro Region, the next phase of our NIMH funded project will test the hypothesis that DCE-derived HIV testing options significantly increases rates of testing among groups at high risk for HIV infection. This work holds promise not only for optimizing HIV testing uptake in the Kilimanjaro Region, but also for applying novel tools in the service of translational epidemiology and implementation research.

Jan Ostermann

Adjunct Associate Professor of Global Health

Kathryn Whetten

Professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy

Director, Center for Health Policy and Inequalities Research
Research Director, Hart Fellows Program,
Professor, Public Policy and Global Health 
Professor, Nursing and Community & Family Medicine 
Pronouns: they/them

Kathryn Whetten is the Principal Investigator on multiple grants and publishes numerous scientific articles every year. In addition, they mentor many students and give guest lectures and presentations throughout the year.

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