There have been great advances in the treatment of individuals living with HIV/AIDS. But in some areas of the world, HIV treatment is still vastly lacking. Africa is one such area. Rates of HIV in Africa continue to rise, despite the increasing efforts of health organizations.
One reason for this is the lack of adherence to antiretroviral therapy (ART) by young people. Adolescents with HIV face numerous challenges on top of the obvious physical ones associated with HIV. They also must address discrimination, stigma, peer influences, safe sexual practices, body image, and personal identity issues in the midst of dealing with the illness itself. Adherence to ART is critical for optimal health and survival and, therefore, efforts to increase ART adherence through psychosocial interventions have been stepped up in Africa.
Africaid is a program designed to maximize adherence and provide psychosocial support to children with HIV. Webster Mavhu of the Department of Community Medicine at the University of Zimbabwe College of Health Sciences in Africa recently conducted an extensive exploration into the adherence of ART and perception of services provided by Africaid from a sample of caregivers, medical professionals, and HIV-positive teenage participants.
Using data from focus groups, questionnaires, interviews, and other data, Mavhu found that teens in the study had poor ART adherence rates. Their levels of psychological well-being were low and more than 60% were potentially at risk for developing depression. Some of the biggest challenges the children reported were stigma, discrimination, and abuse.
Overall, Africaid did provide social support through group therapy, but did little to help children cope with life on a daily basis. Additionally, caregivers of the children cited lack of resources and education needed to help their HIV-positive children. Although the Africaid program is a step in the right direction, these results show that more needs to be done to meet the needs of HIV children and their caregivers in Africa.
As a result of this study, positive changes were made. Mavhu said, “The findings contributed to the enhancement of Africaid’s existing programme of support to better promote psychological well-being and ART adherence.” Mavhu and others hope that additional work in this area can strengthen Africaid and other programs, and potentially decrease the growing epidemic of HIV in Africa and other countries with high rates of illness.
Mavhu, W., Berwick, J., Chirawu, P., Makamba, M., Copas, A., et al. (2013). Enhancing psychosocial support for HIV positive adolescents in Harare, Zimbabwe. PLoS ONE 8(7): e70254. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0070254
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