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How disclosure and antiretroviral therapy help HIV-infected adolescents in sub-Saharan Africa cope with stigma

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HIV-related stigma has a major impact on the health and psychosocial wellbeing of HIV-infected children and youths. While there is some debate about the extent to which improved access to antiretroviral therapy (ART) contributes to a reduction in HIV stigma, we know little about how adolescents who know their HIV status and who are enrolled in ART experience and cope with stigma. The aim of the research was to understand and identify the pathways between HIV-status disclosure, ART, and children's psychosocial wellbeing, including from the perspective of adolescents themselves. Two qualitative studies were carried out, in Botswana and Tanzania, in 2011: 16 adolescents and three healthcare workers were enrolled in Botswana, and 12 adolescents and two healthcare workers were enrolled in Tanzania. The data were collected through individual and group interviews as well as participant observation. The recorded interviews were transcribed and analysed using thematic network analysis. The findings indicate that HIV-status disclosure enabled adolescents to engage effectively with their ART treatment and support groups, which in turn provided them with a sense of confidence and control over their lives. Although the adolescents in the two studies were still experiencing stigma from peers and community members, most did not internalise these experiences in a negative way, but retained hope for the future and felt pity for those untested and uninformed of their own HIV status. We conclude that disclosure and good HIV-related services provide an important platform for HIV-infected adolescents to resist and cope with HIV stigma.
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Keywords: Botswana; HIV/AIDS; Tanzania; medication adherence; qualitative research; social support; thematic network analysis; treatment support; youths

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Health Promotion and Development, University of Bergen, Christiesgt. 13 5015, Bergen, Norway

Publication date: 2012-10-01

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