“When I was no longer able to see and walk, that is when I was affected most”: experiences of disability in people living with HIV in South Africa
HIV-related disability is an emerging issue in countries where HIV is endemic. This study aimed to understand experiences of disability in patients living with HIV in South Africa using the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) as a guiding framework.
In-depth interviews were conducted with 19 HIV-positive people receiving ART through a public hospital in KwaZulu-Natal. Data were analysed using collaborative qualitative content analysis.
Participants described a variety of impairments related to mental, sensory, neuromusculoskeletal, skin, cardiovascular, digestive or reproductive systems. A tenuous relationship was evident between HIV and mental health impairments and the experience of other disabilities. Impairments affected participants’ activity levels, especially mobility, domestic life, self-care and ability to work. Activity limitations affecting livelihood were often of more concern to participants than the impairments. Furthermore, women and men appeared to experience disability related to activities relevant to gendered norms in their cultural context.
More understanding of the intersections among HIV, disability, gender and livelihood is needed. To respond to the increased need to manage disability within HIV care in Africa, HIV programs should include rehabilitative approaches, address concerns related to livelihoods in households with disability and consider gender differences in the experience of disability.