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Despite being home to a large population of vulnerable children there is a dearth of population-based evidence on childhood mental disorders in sub-Saharan Africa. Parent and child mental health are rarely measured concurrently, despite potential for confounding with other risk factors, including parental HIV. Using the parent-report Child Behaviour Checklist (CBCL) we assessed children's mental health in a population-based cohort of 1536 HIV-negative children (31% HIV-exposed, 18% HIV-affected, 51% HIV-unexposed) aged 7-11 years. CBCL was scored using CBCL Rating-to-Score software. A binary indicator was determined using the clinical threshold ≥ 65. We modelled mental disorders using logistic regression, including covariates associated with the mother, child, household, and parenting. Structural equation modelling techniques also derived continuous latent variables representing the underlying mental health and parent-relationship constructs. Prevalence of conduct disorders (11.8%) was high, regardless of HIV exposure, while HIV-affected children had increased odds of affective disorders. Maternal depression increased odds of externalising disorders; maternal anxiety was associated with affective and anxiety disorders. Mother-child relationship dysfunction increased odds of all disorders, including: affective [aOR = 5.1 (2.6-9.9)]; oppositional [aOR = 7.9 (4.0-15.5)]; conduct [aOR = 4.3 (2.6-7.2)] disorders. Food insecurity and male gender increased odds of somatic disorders; breastfeeding halved odds of conduct disorders. In the latent model, associations were substantially stronger for the mother-child relationship and externalising disorders (Oppositional 0.464 p < 0.001; Conduct 0.474 p = <0.001). Conduct disorders were high for all children regardless of HIV exposure. The mother-child relationship was strongly related to all child disorders, suggesting potential for concurrent interventions targeting child behaviours and the parent-child or mother-child relationship.

Original publication




Journal article


Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry

Publication Date





1607 - 1620


Africa, Child, HIV, Mental disorders, Parenting stress, African Continental Ancestry Group, Breast Feeding, Child, Child Behavior, Cohort Studies, Depression, Female, HIV Infections, Humans, Longitudinal Studies, Male, Mother-Child Relations, Mothers, Neurodevelopmental Disorders, Parenting, Parents, Population Surveillance, Prevalence, Risk Factors