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The extent of community and public support available to families caring for orphans in Malawi.


There are an estimated 15 million AIDS orphans worldwide. Families play an important role in safeguarding orphans, but they may be increasingly compromised by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The international aid community has recognized the need to help families continue caring for orphaned children by strengthening their safety nets. Before we build new structures, however, we need to know the extent to which community and public safety nets already provide support to families with orphans. To address this gap, we analyzed nationally representative data from 27,495 children in the 2004-2005 Malawi Integrated Household Survey. We found that communities commonly assisted orphan households through private transfers; organized responses to the orphan crisis were far less frequent. Friends and relatives provided assistance to over 75% of orphan households through private gifts, but the value of such support was relatively low. Over 40% of orphans lived in a community with support groups for the chronically ill and approximately a third of these communities provided services specifically for orphans and other vulnerable children. Public programs, which form a final safety net for vulnerable households, were more widespread. Free/subsidized agricultural inputs and food were the most commonly used public safety nets by children's households in the past year (44 and 13%, respectively), and households with orphans were more likely to be beneficiaries. Malawi is poised to drastically expand safety nets to orphans and their families, and these findings provide an important foundation for this process.

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