“They give us hope”: HIV-positive caregivers’ perspectives on the role of social support for health
A number of studies indicate that social support is associated with better health outcomes among HIV-positive caregivers of children, suggesting its potential importance for interventions aimed at safeguarding the well-being of this population. However, there is very little published literature assessing the support health relationship or evaluating applied social support interventions with HIV-positive populations in HIV-endemic contexts of the developing world. The global literature on social support and health suggests that, in order to refine theory and improve interventions, greater attention should be paid to specific dimensions of support, such as types and sources, as well as the processes through which support may be affecting health outcomes. This article presents and discusses data from in-depth interviews with 12 HIV-positive primary caregivers of children living in an HIV-endemic, low-resourced, urban South African community. The primary aim of this qualitative work was to provide further insight into survey findings of a positive relationship between social support and self-reported general health and functioning, by exploring caregivers’ personal experiences of being supported within their community, and their perceptions on how this ‘‘informal’’ support may be influencing their health. Our qualitative data highlight the importance of instrumental and emotional support for this population, the relevance of support provider characteristics and some of the processes or pathways that are likely explaining the support health link. These processes include psychological factors such as mastery and hope, coping strategies and positive health behaviours. We provide recommendations for future research to further this work, and discuss implications for health interventions.