Mental health of children affected by HIV

Children affected by HIV—those who live with HIV-positive caregivers or who are orphaned by AIDS—experience anxiety and depression at levels that are similar to children who actually have HIV, according to a new study led by Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH).

Studying nearly 700 10- to 17-year-old children in Rwanda from March to December 2012, the researchers found that HIV-affected children had significantly higher levels of mental health difficulties than children unaffected by HIV. Further, they found no statistical difference in levels of mental health issues between HIV-affected children and children living with HIV.

The study was led by [[Theresa Betancourt]], associate professor of child health and human rights in HSPH’s Department of Global Health and Population, and included colleagues from Rwanda, HSPH’s François-Xavier Bagnoud (FXB) Center for Health and Human Rights, Boston Children’s Hospital, Partners in Health, Harvard Medical School, and Columbia University.

“Our findings indicate that even in an increasingly supportive context in Rwanda, HIV-affected youth contend with serious threats to their mental health, comparable to HIV-positive youth,” the authors wrote. “Additional awareness is needed for children who live with HIV-positive caregivers, along with ongoing attention to children orphaned by AIDS.”

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Research Program on Children and Global Adversity: FXB Center for Health and Human Rights