Orphans likely by decade's end Death, shame shatter many families

80,000 AIDS

December 23, 1992|By Boston Globe

BOSTON -- The number of U.S. children and teen-agers orphaned by AIDS will top 80,000 by the end of the decade, rivaling the family-shattering impact of cancer and motor vehicle accidents, according to a study published today.

Unlike in many other fatal diseases and accidental death, however, the loss of a parent from acquired immune deficiency syndrome leaves behind children who are especially vulnerable, ashamed of their plight and in need of customized programs, say the study's authors and others who are beginning to monitor the problem.

"We need to reconceptualize AIDS as a disease that affects not only individuals but families and communities," said David Michaels of the City University of New York, who co-wrote the report with Carol Levine of the Orphan Project in New York City.

The study appears in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association.

More than 80 percent of all youths whose mothers have died of AIDS or other causes related to infection with the human immunodeficiency virus are African-American or Hispanic, the researchers report. They often come from families already beset by severe poverty, fragile community support, drug abuse, poor education and inadequate medical care.

"How can we allow there to be 80,000 or more AIDS orphans by the end of this century and all the social destruction that accompanies that?" Mr. Michaels said in a telephone interview yesterday.

"However difficult it is to find places for these children," he said, "it seems obvious that it will cost society more later on."

Mr. Michaels and other researchers said one of the biggest obstacles to providing services to AIDS orphans is the shame associated with the disease, especially in the minority communities where families are most affected.

"The stigma of AIDS is still enormous," said Barbara Draimin of New York City's Department of Human Resources. In a separate study of 40 families in which a parent had died of AIDS or was ill with the disease, Ms. Draimin found that 39 percent of the affected adolescent children did not know their parent's diagnosis.

Of the 61 percent who did know, Ms. Draimin said yesterday, not a single one had shared the information with a best friend -- even, in one instance, when the best friend's mother also had AIDS.

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