Background: Households form the basic social and economic building blocks of sub-Saharan African societies. Household viability is threatened by sustained crisis-level mortality in widely disseminated HIV epidemics. This article describes the impact of adult deaths on households in small towns, estates, and villages in eastern Zimbabwe.
Methods: A stratified baseline household census was conducted, and 9842 adults were interviewed, tested for HIV infection, and followed up after 3 years. For 374 (93%) of 404 respondents who died, verbal autopsies were conducted with caregivers and data were collected on income foregone, health care and funeral expenditure, and household dissolution and relocation. The household impact of AIDS and non-AIDS deaths was compared.
Results: Deaths occurred disproportionately in more urban and low-income households, with AIDS deaths more often resulting in the loss of the household head (57% vs. 46%, adjusted odds ratio [AOR] = 2.47; P = 0.003). The median gross expenditure on health care and funerals was 25 US dollars (interquartile ratio [IQR]: 5-88) and 73 US dollars (IQR: 43-128), respectively, with external contributions being substantial for funerals (25 US dollars, IQR: 10-54). Households with AIDS deaths spent more on health care (incidence rate ratio = 1.83; 95% confidence interval: 1.06 to 3.15) and had more frequently dissolved or relocated (39% vs. 27%, AOR = 1.87; P = 0.038) than those with non-AIDS deaths. Households migrated disproportionately to rural villages.
Conclusion: Despite the extended family system, adult deaths undermine the viability of sub-Saharan African households. HIV epidemics have greatly increased adult mortality, and AIDS deaths can be particularly destabilizing.