The relationship between social support and the health of HIV-positive caregivers of children: a review of the empirical literature
A wealth of global literature suggests that social support can play an important protective role for the well-being of caregivers of children and the children in their care. In Southern Africa, where the caregiving burden is intensifying and the prevalence of HIV and other physical and mental health disorders is elevated, strengthening social support resources may be the key to more effective carer and child health interventions. This may be especially true for HIV-positive and/or AIDS-ill carers, who face heightened caregiving challenges and health risks. This review aims to consolidate the existing international literature in this area by summarizing methodologies and empirical findings of published and unpublished studies that quantitatively assess the association between one or more measurable dimension of social support and one or more measurable physical or mental health outcome, among HIV-positive and/or AIDS-ill adult caregivers of children. Limitations, strengths and key findings of the 15 identified studies are discussed, as are gaps and implications for future research. Overall, study findings highlight a positive relationship between social support and health, particularly mental health, reinforcing the importance of social support as an integral element of mental health interventions for HIV-positive caregivers of children. The absence of research in Southern Africa, and other parts of the developing world most affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic, highlights the need for future investigation in these contexts. Recommendations for further research include larger and more representative studies; longitudinal studies; studies with caregivers of non-biological children; and research linking caregiver social support to parenting and child outcomes. Moreover, mixed methodology approaches would be useful to better understand the sources and types of social support most relevant for health outcomes in this specific population, as well as the mechanisms through which this support may be affecting health.