The United Nations Children’s Fund has labeled street children as children in difficult circumstances, which represent a minority population that has been under-represented for too long in health research. This is a concern because street children are at risk of carrying a greater disease burden. Their homeless lifestyle makes them more vulnerable to health risks and problems than children who live at home; as they roam the streets begging for food and money to obtain basic needs and are found sleeping in half-destroyed houses, abandoned basements, under bridges and in the open air. This paper presents health results from a systematic review of literature from 17 databases and including 16 countries in Africa. The review revealed that there are more boys than girls living on the street in their adolescence and who mainly have left home due to poverty and abuse. These children in these countries are vulnerable to poor health due to factors such as homelessness, risky sexual behavior, substance abuse and violence. Among the health problems identified are growth and nutritional disorders, physical injuries, violence, sexual abuse, communicable diseases including diarrheal diseases, malaria, respiratory diseases, neglected tropical diseases, mental health issues, substance abuse, reproductive health disorders, mortality, sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS. Primary interventions that could prevent poor health and improve the health status of street children include provision of safe shelter, proper nutrition, access to health care, health education, and sexual reproductive health, protection from any form of abuse, violence and substance abuse. Enforcing state policies and laws in all African countries is required to protect street children from neglect, abuse and to increase their access to education. More research on the health risks and health status of street children is still required, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, which carries the greatest disease burden and poverty.
Street children; Africa; Health