Background: The growing global epidemic of HIV/AIDS has a significant impact on the lives of both people living with HIV/AIDS and their family members including children. Children of parents with HIV/AIDS may experience an increased responsibility of caregiving in family. However, limited data are available regarding the caregiving experience and its impact on psychosocial well-being among these children. This study was designed to address these issues by using qualitative data collected from children affected by HIV/AIDS in China.
Methods: The qualitative data were collected in 2006 in rural central China, where many residents were infected with HIV/AIDS through unhygienic blood collection procedures. In-depth individual interviews were conducted by trained interviewers with 47 children between 8 and 17 years of age who had lost one or both parents to AIDS.
Results: Findings of this study suggest that many children affected by AIDS had experienced increased responsibilities in housework and caregiving for family members. Such caregiving included caring for self and younger siblings, caring for parents with illness and caring for elderly grandparents. Positive impacts from children's participation in family caregiving included personal growth and emotional maturity. Negative consequences included physical fatigue, psychological fear and anxiety and suboptimal schooling (dropping out from school, repeated absence from school and unable to concentrate in class).
Conclusion: While the increased caregiving responsibilities among children reflected some cultural beliefs and had some positive effect on personal growth, the caregiving experience generally negatively effected the children's physical and mental health and schooling. The findings in the current study suggest that community-based caregiving support is necessary in areas with high prevalence of HIV and limited resources, especially for the families lacking adult caregivers. In addition, social and psychological support should be made available for children participating in family caregiving.