More than half of orphaned youth age 12 to 24 who head households in rural Rwanda meet criteria for depression, according to a new report.
The combined effects of the 1994 genocide and the HIV epidemic give Rwanda one of the highest numbers of orphans in the world—an estimated 290,000 in 2005, according to background information in the article. "Most African orphans have been absorbed into informal fostering systems," the authors write. "Such systems, however, are increasingly overwhelmed, and many orphans either head households or live on the street."
Neil W. Boris, M.D., of the Tulane University School of Medicine, New Orleans, and colleagues assessed depressive symptoms in 539 youth in Rwanda who served as heads of households. Trained interviewers met with the youth (age 24 or younger, average age 20) and administered scales measuring symptoms of grief, depression, adult support and marginalization from the community. Questions about demographics, health, vulnerability and risky behaviors also were included.
The researchers found that:
"Hunger, grief, few assets, poor health status and indices of social marginalization were associated with more depressive symptoms in this sample," the authors write. "Ten years after the Rwandan genocide and in the midst of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the effects of poverty and social disruption on the most vulnerable youth in Rwanda are evident."
"The effect of caregiver depression on younger children living in youth-headed households is not yet known," they conclude. "Further study of orphans and vulnerable children in countries such as Rwanda, in particular, studies that inform large-scale interventions, are necessary if the next generation of youth is to thrive."
This study was supported by the Population Council Horizons Program, which was funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development.
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