The role of schools in supporting HIV-affected children in sub-Saharan Africa: a systematic review

The role of schools in supporting HIV-affected children in sub-Saharan Africa: a systematic review

HIV-affected children (themselves sick/with sick parents/orphaned) are particularly vulnerable to poor nutrition, mental and physical health, sexual abuse and poverty - which consequently tend to have a negative impact on their school enrolment and academic progress.

Reviewing existing literature on schools and the health and well-being of vulnerable children, this literature review aims to address the following question:

What interventions have been made to improve school environments to facilitate support for the health and well-being of vulnerable children in Zimbabwe and similar socio-economic contexts in sub-Saharan Africa?

Establishing an overview of existing literature on this topic is essential to learn from previous experiences and identify what supplementary research is needed in order to fully understand the potential possibilities of school capacities to facilitate contexts of care and support for HIV-affected children.

This review has demonstrated positive correlations between school enrolment and the health of children, as well as acknowledged the potential of school-based interventions to support the health of children and promote their health knowledge. However, there is a need for schools to go beyond knowledge and provide more comprehensive support for HIV-affected and orphaned children, particularly in light of the dwindling capacity of struggling households to provide adequate care and support for children in their care. Rather than relying on the implementation of external resources to do this, there is a need to supplement existing research exploring the pathways through which some schools in challenging socio-economic contexts manage to support HIV-affected learners by drawing on already available resources and by involving local communities.

Furthermore, there is a need to explore the interface between schools and external organizations in order to strengthen supportive school environments. This should be done by developing the existing literature with more in-depth qualitative research focusing on children’s perspectives, allowing HIV-affected children to express how they experience the school environment and cope with adversity in their everyday lives.