The AIDS epidemic will leave 80,000 American children motherless by the end of the decade, including 30,000 in New York City, researchers predict. Unless more resources are devoted to these children, a social catastrophe is unavoidable, they said.
In a study being published today in The Journal of the American Medical Association, the researchers said 80 percent of the children and teen-agers who would lose their mothers to AIDS were black or of Hispanic descent.
The findings correlate in part with estimates by the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that 74 percent of women with AIDS are from those two groups, said Dr. David Michaels, a co-author of the new study. Dr. Michaels is an associate professor of epidemiology at the City University of New York Medical School/Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education at City College.
For purposes of the study, AIDS orphans were defined as children whose mothers had died of AIDS-related conditions. Dr. Michaels said the main reason for using a definition that excluded fathers was that accurate information about the fathers was not available and that most women with AIDS were single mothers, generally because the father had already died of AIDS or was unwilling or unable to care for the children.
New York Is Worst Hit
The study said New York accounted for more AIDS orphans than any other city in the country, putting the number at 7,500 at the end of 1991, or more than a third of the nation's 18,500 AIDS orphans. The disease is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus, or H.I.V.
Of those children born to H.I.V.-infected women in the United States, the vast majority are not infected with the AIDS virus, the researchers said. They estimated that at most, 36 percent were infected, and that the figure might be as low as 13 percent.
The authors wrote in the journal: "The needs of these youngsters cannot be ignored. To do so would be not only lacking in compassion for the most vulnerable members of society; it would also invite a social catastrophe of the greatest magnitude."
For the children, the death of the mother can be the latest in a series of blows inflicted by poverty (a majority of women with AIDS are poor) and the AIDS epidemic.
The supports available for women with AIDS and their children are limited. "Once the mother with AIDS dies, any supports that she and her family had while she was alive are removed," said Carol Levine, co-author of the study and executive director of the Orphan Project, a research group that studies the survivors of people with AIDS. "So any supports the children may have relied on are removed when they are the most vulnerable."
A Manhattan woman, Valerie Jimenez, who says she has AIDS, said she was concerned about the future of her two children, Haydee, 9, and Joseph, 4. Her husband, Jose, died of AIDS in September, and with her health failing, she said, she saw that her children were bracing themselves for another loss.
"There is not a lot of help out there for these kids right now, so I have to get them on the straight and narrow and I need to do it quickly," she said. "While they still have a parent."
Ms. Levine said that only a few services were available because AIDS workers were still learning how to meet the children's needs.
"We don't even know what the best services are to meet their needs," she said. "But we have to act while the children are still children. We don't have the luxury of time."