A Qualitative study of community home-based care and antiretroviral adherence in Swaziland
Introduction: Antiretroviral therapy (ART) has rendered HIV and AIDS a chronic condition for individuals in many parts of the world. Adherence, however, is integral to achieving chronicity. Studies have shown both relatively high ART adherence rates in sub-Saharan Africa and the importance of community home-based care (CHBC) to facilitating this process. In light of diminished HIV and AIDS funding globally and increased reliance on CHBC throughout Africa, a better understanding of how CHBC may strengthen ART adherence is essential to improving patients’ quality of life, tending to the needs of care supporters and achieving healthier populations.
Methods: This article reports findings from a qualitative study of a CHBC organisation serving an estimated 2500 clients in rural Swaziland. Semi-structured questionnaires with 79 HIV-positive clients [people living with HIV and AIDS (PLWHA)] yielded data on diverse aspects of being HIV positive, including insights on whether and how PLWHA perceived care supporters to facilitate ART adherence in a high stigma and structurally impoverished setting.
Results: Ninety-two percent of participants said their health had improved since care supporters came into their lives. A major finding was that an estimated 53% of participants said they would have died, a few from suicide had the care supporter never intervened. More than one in four participants (27.9%) sought HIV testing after a care supporter began visiting them. Nearly a third (31%) commenced ART after and largely as a consequence of care supporter intervention. Approximately one in four (23%) reported that their care supporter had helped them to disclose their HIV-positive status to family members. Twenty-seven percent said they had felt discouraged or had been discouraged from taking ART by members of their family or community.
Discussion: General inductive analysis of participant reports suggested two social mechanisms of CHBC impact on ART adherence: (i) cultivating client-care supporter ‘‘talk’’ to enhance treatment uptake and literacy, reduce felt stigma and challenge social pressures to desist from ART and (ii) real-time interactions between clients and care supporters whereby the care ‘‘relationship’’ was itself the ‘‘intervention,’’ providing lay counsel, material and financial assistance, and encouragement when clients suffered stigma, side effects and other obstacles to adherence. These social dynamics of adherence generally fall outside the purview of conventional clinical and public health research. Conclusions: PLWHA reports of care supporter practices that enabled ART adherence demonstrated the pivotal role that CHBC plays in many PLWHA lives, especially in hard to reach areas. Relative to clinic personnel, care supporters are often intensely engaged in clients’ experiences of sickness, stigma and poverty, rendering them influential in individuals’ decision-making. This influence must be matched with on-going training and support of care supporters, as well as a clear articulation with the formal and informal health sectors, to ensure that PLWHA are correctly counselled and care supporters themselves supported. Overall, findings showed that PLWHA experiences of CHBC should be captured and incorporated into any programme aimed at successfully implementing the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) Treatment 2.0 agenda Pillar 4 (increasing HIV testing uptake and care linkages) and Pillar 5 (strengthening community mobilisation).