A report on the global AIDS epidemic published by the United Nations mentions that due to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, which has left 12 million children orphaned in Sub-Saharan African, children are at an increased risk for mental health problems.
"There has been a big push to understand what we can do to help these kids, but also how to identify these children in the community," said Carla Sharp, a native of South Africa and an associate professor of clinical psychology and director of the Developmental Psychopathology Lab at the University of Houston.
"Part of the challenge is that there are four psychologists per 100,000 people in South Africa and .03 psychiatrists per 100,000 people. Individuals that are typically trained to help with mental health needs in the community are not available, and the few people who are available are often not culturally aware."
Sharp serves as principal investigator for a $951,147 grant funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), titled, "Emotional-behavior disorders in South African children affected by AIDS." The goal of the research study is to develop a reliable and valid diagnostic tool for the early detection of psychiatric disorder as a first step toward successful intervention.
The three-year cross-sectional study adapted two measures for the South African context, a clinical diagnostic interview and questionnaire using multiple informants (caregiver, teacher and self-report), to collect 750 interviews from children, ages 7 to 11 years old, which included 250 children orphaned by AIDS, 250 orphaned by other means and 250 non-orphaned.
"We wanted to look at a few factors, such as accessibility and feasibility of using the diagnostic measure in an educational context, substance use among caregivers and poverty among the three (orphaned) groups to see if there's anything special to being a child orphaned by AIDS - because they're lots of things going on like desertion, or parents dying in accidents or violence, " said Sharp.
Sharp notes the findings of the research study indicated poverty may wash out any of the effects between the children, "...so it almost doesn't matter if the children are orphaned by AIDS, they are going to be at risk for emotional and behavioral problems anyway because they are so poor."