Background: Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) are children affected by HIV and AIDS by virtue of, among others, living in a household where one or more people are ill, dying or deceased, or which fosters orphans, and children whose care givers are too ill or old to continue to care for them. They often have more health needs than their peers. This study was carried out to obtain baseline information on the needs of OVC in North-Central Nigeria as a basis for provision of relief services.
Methods: A house to house cross-sectional survey of OVC recruited via a multistage sampling technique was carried out in four LGAs of Plateau State, Nigeria. The Child Status Index (CSI) tool was used to obtain information from the respondents and/or their caregivers. Vulnerability of the children was assessed using a Vulnerability Index (VI) scoring which ranged from 1-21, with 1-9 being vulnerable, 10-14 more vulnerable, and 15-21 being most vulnerable.
Results: A total of 825 OVC ages ranging from 0-17 years and mean age of 9.8 ± 4.5 years were studied. 432 were males (52.4%) and 393 females (47.6%). 64.8% lived in households headed by women out of which 77.6% were widows. Six hundred and one (72.8%) household heads were farmers. Paternal orphans made up 59.8% of the respondents and 12.1% had lost both parents. Prevalence of abuse/exploitation was 17.7% and 66.7% experienced household food insecurity. Four hundred and seventy-eight (57.9%) OVC lived in households with no source of income. One hundred and fifty-one (18.3%) children (54.9% boys and 45.1% girls) had never been to school. 55.0% had minimal health problems. Majority of them (60.3%) lived in dilapidated shelter and 3.3% were living on the street.
Conclusion: This survey revealed the various needs of OVC. Efforts to care, support and protect vulnerable children should not only focus on their immediate survival needs such as education, shelter and clothing, but also on long-term developmental needs that reduce children's vulnerability such as life skills, child protection, vocational training, food security and household economic strengthening.