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Discussing matters of sexual health with children: what issues relating to disclosure of parental HIV status reveal

Sara Liane Nam, Katherine Fielding, Ava Avalos, Tendani Gaolathe, Diana Dickinson, Paul Wenzel Geissler
AIDS Care 2009, 21 (3): 389-95
Little is published about the disclosure of parents' own HIV status to their children in Africa. Research shows that keeping family secrets from children, including those related to a parent's HIV status, can be detrimental to their psychological well-being and to the structure of the family. Further, children with HIV-positive parents have been shown to be more vulnerable to poorer reproductive health outcomes. This qualitative study in Botswana conducted in-depth interviews among 21 HIV-positive parents on antiretroviral therapy. The data revealed that parents found discussing the issue of HIV with children difficult, including disclosing their own HIV status to them. Reasons for disclosing included: children being HIV positive, the rest of the family knowing, or the parent becoming very sick. Reasons for not disclosing included: believing the child to be too young, not knowing how to address the issue of HIV, that it would be "too painful" for the child/ren. Concern that other people might find out about their status or fear of children experiencing stigmatising behaviour. Interviews elucidated the difficulty that parents have in discussing their own HIV status and more general sexual health issues with their children. Parents and other guardians require support in managing age-appropriate disclosure to their children. This may further enable access to forums that can help children cope with their fears about the future and develop life skills in preparation for dealing with relationships of a sexual nature and sexual health as children move into adulthood. In developing such support mechanisms, changing family roles in Botswana need to be taken into consideration and the role of other family members in the upbringing of children in Tswana society need to be recognised and utilised.


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