Abstract Background HIV/AIDS has orphaned 11.6 million children in sub-Saharan Africa. Expanded antiretroviral therapy (ART) use may reduce AIDS orphanhood by decreasing adult mortality and population-level HIV transmission. Methods We modeled two scenarios to measure the impact of adult ART use on the incidence of orphanhood in 10 sub-Saharan African countries, from 2009 to 2020. Demographic model data inputs were obtained from cohort studies, UNAIDS, UN Population Division, WHO and the US Census Bureau. Results Compared to current rates of ART uptake, universal ART access averted 4.37 million more AIDS orphans by year 2020, including 3.15 million maternal, 1.89 million paternal and 0.75 million double orphans. The number of AIDS orphans averted was highest in South Africa (901.71 thousand) and Nigeria (839.01 thousand), and lowest in Zimbabwe (86.96 thousand) and Côte d'Ivoire (109.12 thousand). Conclusion Universal ART use may significantly reduce orphanhood in sub-Saharan Africa.