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HIV/AIDS and Orphans in Sub-Saharan Africa Research Paper

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Updated: Oct 4th, 2021

On the choice of orphans in sub-Saharan Africa as the topic for this research, it aims at addressing the cause of overwhelming numbers of orphans in the region and how this impacts society. The research will also be carried out on the areas most affected by this epidemic. In the research, it will also be of significance to find out how orphans and poverty are related. It has always seemed like the poor societies are more affected by phenomena such as orphanhood than those higher in social status. There are millions of orphaned children in the world and the number is increasing rapidly day by day. Most of the world’s orphans are notably found in Africa and more so sub-Saharan Africa.

Research questions

  1. What are the main causes of an orphanage in the world?
  2. What are the effects of the orphanage on the victims?
  3. Which are the main geographical regions with the highest number of orphans?
  4. What is the impact of orphans on society?
  5. Are there programs that cater to orphans?

Research methodology

The initial stages of the research will involve finding out the history of orphans in selected areas. This will give an insight into the reason for the existence of so many orphans. Having found a link between HIV/AIDS and orphans, the research will gravitate towards the history of AIDS and the search for statistics on AIDS orphans in different regions of sub-Saharan Africa.

The study will also involve digging into the impact that orphans have on the wider society, immediate and otherwise. In most of these setups, older children are left with the responsibility of taking care of their junior siblings and more often than not, their aging grandparents. The responsibility of the absent parents, therefore, falls stack on the shoulders of incapacitated young ones. The research will be focused on some of the most affected countries on the continent.


Africa was oblivious to the HIV virus that is responsible for AIDS until the 80s. In countries such as Kenya and Botswana for instance, the first cases of AIDS were reported in 1985. Prior to that time, AIDS was associated with the homosexuals of the West and this influenced the initial attitude of society towards those who were found infected. They were looked at as immoral and to some extent, they still are, regardless of the means through which they got infected. Since then, the illness was set loose and has spread like fire through the dry bush. The rate at which the epidemic is claiming lives is alarming and there is no sign that it will abate unless drastic measures are taken. According to information on AIDS and HIV, world statistics show that there are estimates of more than 15million children of the age below 18 who have been orphaned because of AIDS. Out of this figure, sub-Saharan Africa is home to about 12million of these orphans. Some of the most affected countries include Zambia, Botswana, Swaziland, and Lesotho. In the most affected countries, a percentage of more than 20 of children below the age of seventeen in those countries have been orphaned. AIDS has claimed one or both of their parents (Poku & Whitesand, 2004).

Most of the orphans in some of the countries have been orphaned by AIDS more than by any other means. The statistics on orphans vary from one country to the other across all regions. This is dictated by the prevalence rate of AIDS and also differs from rural to urban areas. The age however stubbornly ranges from 0 to 14 years. The problem of the orphanage is sometimes covered by the difference in time between when the parents become infected and when they finally succumb to the illness. The crisis could be expected to escalate if more adults are infected over the next few years. Stephen Lewis, UN Special Envoy for AIDS in Africa, says “The increased spiral of adult deaths in so many countries means that the number of children orphaned each day is expanding exponentially and Africa is staggering under the load” (Newman, 2005).

Poverty and AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa

Research shows that approximately 95 percent of the children orphaned by AIDS in the world are found in sub-Saharan Africa. A report from United Nations Children’s Fund and Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS shows there are around a 48million orphans in the region south of the Sahara. Out of these, 25percent are AIDS orphans. The infection of HIV/AIDS is prevalent in the groups that are socially and economically productive which is the age bracket between 15 and 45 years. Women seemed to be more affected than men. About 9million African lives have been claimed so far and the epidemic’s hunger appears to be insatiable. The disparity between HIV/AIDS prevalence in urban and rural areas is rapidly closing up. The world’s biggest epidemic disease has had and continues to have adverse implications of increasing poverty across generations. It is one of the hurdles that policy-makers have to contend with. We can not rightfully conclude that HIV/AIDS is confined to poor regions although they account for the larger percentage. The lifestyles led by many Africans expose them to infection and this is followed by social and economic effects. Poor social groups are however less able to cope with the implications of the growing epidemic (Poku & Whitesand, 2004).

Children from poor households eventually survive their poor deceased parents and the cycle goes. Poverty is viewed as the result of unequal distribution of resources across social circles. These are characterized by poor education, illiteracy and lack of skills, poor health, and low production of labor. Poor households suffer political and social marginalization. The result is difficulty in reaching the financially handicapped populations through emerging and existing programs aimed at improving their living standards. It is for this reason that these people adopt behaviors that expose them to infection. Poverty is the reason for labor mobility and the intensification of HIV/AIDS spread.

The HIV/AIDS orphans bear the greater stigma once their parents have passed on. They are left in isolation and cut off from access to social support. Orphans find themselves separated from the general community. In addition, these kids lack access to proper nutrition and the result is low production of labor and in the long term low income. Though this may not be immediate, the conditions to which orphans are exposed give them no room for social mobility and they become vehicles to generations of poverty. As the future for Africa and specifically their countries, the implication is that there is no hope for economic growth. The objectives for national development can not be tailored along these lines (Poku & Whitesand, 2004).

The research was mainly focused on two of the world’s most affected countries in sub-Saharan Africa. The two were Zambia and Botswana.


HIV/AIDS History

Like in many other countries in the world, Botswana first heard of a reported case of AIDS in 1985. It embarked on an HIV/AIDS response where the first stages involved blood screening to curb the spread of the virus through blood transfusion. In the second stage, programs on information, communication, and education were introduced and the Botswana National Policy on AIDS was introduced. From then on, the response was expanded to include care as well as prevention. The National AIDS Coordinating Agency (NACA) formed in1999 was accorded the responsibility of mobilizing and coordinating the response to the epidemic. Among the adult population, the infection rate is estimated at 17%. A lack of human resources has been a setback to economic development in the country (IRIN Report, 2002).

Impact of HIV/AIDS

A vicious cycle could be formed by increased poverty in addition to low economic growth. This is where AIDS results in poverty for many families while at the same time poverty leads to a high prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS. To control this, the country will be forced to formulate plans to curb the spread of the virus and also come up with ways to alleviate poverty. Suffering caused by HIV/AIDS may not necessarily suppress economic growth and determining how much the epidemic has impacted the economy may be difficult since Gross and Domestic Product changes do not show a reflection of loss and consequential suffering caused by disease. The studies carried in Botswana show that the country’s poverty is likely to increase in the future. Botswana is rich in diamonds and a good base for economic growth but per capita income in poverty-stricken homes could well fall.

In Botswana, the impact of the HIV/AIDS scourge is especially seen in children orphaned by AIDS. In the case of the loss of both parents, the children are left in the care of elderly female relatives, in most cases grandmothers, who may not even be able to fend for themselves. Consequently, these children drop out of school for lack of maintenance money and their nutrition also changes in the negative. The kind of lifestyle they have could not in any way be comparable to that of children in families with both parents. Poor diet topped with lack of education automatically condemns the orphans to poverty and as a result a lot of stress socially and mentally. (UNAIDS/World Bank Report: “Aids Hindering Economic Growth, Worsening Poverty in Hard-hit Countries). Botswana’s economic input is also affected by the loss of workers as labor production goes down. HIV/AIDS is a major development challenge that threatens social and economic gains. This affects up to 47% of the population.

Measures to control poverty and AIDS

Programs have been set up to facilitate the control of AIDS and its implications. The United Nations Development Programme has for instance played a big role in providing advisory services on policy-making. Being incorporated are gender and governance issues. Among the program’s aims is the reduction of poverty, reversing HIV/AIDS spread, increasing per capita income, and maintaining a reasonable budgetary allocation of resources with emphasis on the poor societies (Newman, 2005).


Zambia is one of the other countries with a high HIV/AIDS prevalence. It is known for its production of copper and relies on copper mines for 90% of export earnings Mining is, therefore, the main economic activity among its people. AIDS has however got integrated into all aspects of society so much that all discussions on issues pertaining to society have to include the mention of AIDS. A report by UNAIDS shows that in every seven adults, there is more than one person who is infected. The country is said to be weighed down by economic difficulties compounded by AIDS. Those living with AIDS face stigmatization from the rest of society (Geloo, 2004).

History of AIDS

The first case of infection in Zambia was reported in 1984 as shown by a World Health Organization (WHO) Report. Within a period of one year, the statistics on patients showed that 17.5% were AIDS patients. The problem escalated to a point where the National AIDS Surveillance Committee (NASC) and National AIDS Prevention and Control Programme (NAPCP) were set up to assist in the coordination of activities relating to HIV/AIDS. At first talk about the epidemic was hushed but in 2004, AIDS was declared a national emergency and a program for provision of ARVs was established.

Impact of HIV/AIDS

It has noted that infection rates among the Zambian society are higher among the well off than the poor. However, the poor are least able to deal with the effects of HIV/AIDS. The most vulnerable are young females. Prevalence rates also seem to be higher in Lusaka and Copperbelt, two urban areas of the country. A report on AIDS care shows that the rural regions are least affected. The kind of lifestyle adopted by women especially puts at a high risk of infection. Movement of people in search of work is also to a big extent responsible for the spread.

The AIDS epidemic has affected several sectors of the economy. Loss of employees and social workers stifles national development as production and harvests go down. Children are however the most affected. In 2007, there were reported to be at least 0.6million AIDS orphans in the country. These children face stigmatization and are abused and misused by the families in whose care they are left. These orphans have been found to run away into the streets where they beg pickpocket or do odd jobs to be able to look after their families. The number of children in the streets rises as AIDS continues to claim the lives of parents in Zambia. Statistics have it that about 94000 people die in Zambia as a result of AIDS. Consequently, more than 50% of children living in the streets are AIDS orphan.

Schooling has also become a problem among the orphans because of an unaffordable cost of education. Besides, they are faced with conditions of starvation as they scramble for the little they can find on the streets. With increased poverty, the possibility of a decent life is almost nonexistent. The girls find themselves in situations where they have to offer sex in exchange for a meal. With these conditions, it is almost inevitable to be infected with STIs and the population of the infected just keeps rising (Newman, 2005).

Crime has been another effect of orphanhood in the country. With little to sustain the growing population of street children, a society of thieves, rapists and terror gangs is emerging. This has also seen the rise of drug use as a source of escape from the hardships arising from orphanhood. Substances like cannabis sativa, cocaine and glue are in common use among them. The government lacks funds to support orphans and as Mendosa, a South American says, “The situation for street children is getting worse. The only thing to do is strengthen families so that they can look after their children.”(Zarina Geloo, 2004).

Strategies to control HIV/AIDS and poverty

The Copperbelt Health Education Project has employed music, groups, drama and role play to educate the masses on HIV/AIDS. The program mainly targets rural areas which is not entirely effective as the urban populations are more affected. In schools, the method has been used to educate roughly 25,000 students across the country. Education focused on peer groups has also employed youth services where peer educators work closely with health centers to reach out to sex workers, and street children.The media has also been a venue of influence in raising awareness but this has an advantage mostly on rural folk. Zambia established an Anti- AIDS Club in the 80s which reaches out to children at risk of infection and encourages safe living. The government has involved faith organizations and Non Government Organizations in the campaign against AIDS (Polak, 2005).

Problems Faced by AIDS Orphans in sub-Saharan Africa

Emotional Impact

From the onset, children who have been orphaned by AIDS suffer neglect even long before their parents have died. With the death of their parents, emotional trauma sets in. The difficult part is adjusting to a new life where there is nobody to look up to and no external support. The orphans may then have to fend for themselves and in the process there could be malicious people out to exploit and abuse them. The orphaned children are vulnerable to psychological distress and they bring it out in behaviors such as anger, anxiety and depression. There is a sense of hopelessness and some will even introduce thoughts of suicide to escape from the social implications of their situations (Polak, 2005).

Financial Impact

In most instances, upon the demise of the breadwinning parents, children are condemned to a life under the care of female relatives whose income can barely support them. (Monash & Ties, 2004) The orphans are therefore pressurized to step in and contribute to the financial needs of the household. This drives them out onto the streets where they have to do anything within their means to at least put food on the table. To a great extent, underage children find themselves in the predicaments where they are responsible for all the members of the household, young and old (Polak, 2005).

Social Impact

Homes affected by AIDS are often stigmatized by society. By extension, children of infected parents are associated with AIDS and are equally stigmatized. From this stigmatization, the children are not allowed to mix with others and access to social amenities is limited. Their future is at the mercies of society which is unwilling to accommodate them. Families consequently are threatened with disintegration (Polak, 2005).


The research proved that the world’s entire attitude towards AIDS ought to change if we are to make any headway in the eradication of a socially and economically crippling occurrence. This will not only enable for growth and development but could boost the morale of both the infected and affected towards productive living. It could give some start to the end of poverty by extension as all will be contributors to production of labor. If all people accepted AIDS victims into society and allowed them access to all social amenities, the social stigma they suffer could be eliminated and they would not be withdrawn. (Cohen, 1996).

Attitude may not however be of any use if other direct measures are not taken to face out the disease altogether. Policies that will govern the control of spread and care of infected and affected should be put in place to benefit not only the rich but also the poor of society who actually comprise the larger population. The policies could work well through programs such as the National AIDS Coordinating Agency of Botswana (Cohen &Trussell, 1996).

The programs could see to acquisition of skills that will enable the victims to fend for themselves financially and access medical care. Besides and more importantly, the programs would reach out to all regions and educate the populations on positive living and ways to avoid infection. AIDS orphans need to feel they are part of the society and like any other person demand love. Instead of delegating responsibility duties to old relatives, programs could be put in place which take orphans into social care centers and bring them up, preparing them for integration into society and promising futures (Monash & Boerma, 2004).


From this research it is evident that a great number of children who have been exposed to poverty all their lives will adopt the same manner of living that exposes them to infection by HIV. The effect will be a carry forward of infected communities into the next generation. The ultimate implication is that the epidemic, instead of taking a turn towards extinction, will grow. If the trend is not checked, the entire human race could slowly be faced with extinction (Monash & Boerma, 2004).


Caldwell J. “Rethinking the African AIDS Epidemic” (2008) Volume 34 Issue 3.

Cohen B. & Trussell J., (1996) Preventing and Mitigating AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa. Washington DC: National Academic Press.

Cohen D. “HIV and Development Programme: Poverty and HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa.” Issues Paper No. 27.

Geloo Z. (2004) Zambia: Poverty and AIDS behind the Growing Ranks of Homeless Kids. Lusaka.

IRIN Report (2002) “Botswana: AIDS Orphans Exploited”.

IRIN Report (2005) “Malawi: New Child Welfare Plan Gives Stakeholders Common Platform.

Monash &Boerma J. (2004) “Orphanhood and Childcare patterns in sub-Saharan Africa: An analysis of National Surveys from 40 Countries, AIDS 18(SUPPLE.2): S55-S65.

Newman P., (2005) Out of Poverty: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Poku N. & Whitesand A., (2004) The Political Economy of AIDS in Africa: Ashgate Publishing Ltd.

UNAIDS. (2008) “Report On the Global AIDS Epidemic”.

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