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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Health and economic impact of HIV/AIDS on South African households: a cohort study

Max O Bachmann1* and Frederick LR Booysen2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Community Health, University of the Free State, PO Box 339(G52), Bloemfontein 9300, South Africa

2 Department of Economics and Centre for Health Systems Research and Development, University of the Free State, PO Box 339, Bloemfontein 9300, South Africa

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BMC Public Health 2003, 3:14  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-3-14

Published: 1 April 2003



South African households are severely affected by human immunodeficiency virus / acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS) but health and economic impacts have not been quantified in controlled cohort studies.


We compared households with an HIV-infected member, and unaffected neighbouring households, in one rural and one urban area in Free State province, South Africa. Interviews were conducted with one key informant in each household, at baseline and six months later. We studied 1913 members of 404 households, with 94% and 96% follow up, respectively. Household and individual level analyses were done.


Members of affected households, compared to members of unaffected households, were independently more likely to be continuously ill (adjusted odds ratio (OR) 2.1, 95% CI 1.3–3.4 at follow up), and to die (adjusted OR 3.4, 95% CI 1.0–11), mainly due to infectious diseases. Government clinics and hospitals were the main sources of health care. Affected households were poorer than unaffected households at baseline (relative income per person 0.61, 95% CI 0.49–0.76). Over six months expenditure and income decreased more rapidly in affected than in unaffected households (baseline-adjusted relative expenditure 0.86, 95% CI 0.75–0.99 and income 0.89, 95% CI 0.75–1.05). Baseline morbidity was independently associated with lower income and expenditure at baseline but not with changes over six months.


HIV/AIDS affects the health and wealth of households as well as infected individuals, aggravating pre-existing poverty.