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Telling children they have HIV: lessons learned from findings of a qualitative study in sub-Saharan Africa

Lara M E Vaz, Eugenia Eng, Suzanne Maman, Tomi Tshikandu, Frieda Behets
AIDS Patient Care and STDs 2010, 24 (4): 247-56
HIV-infected children in developing countries are living longer lives as they gain access to antiretroviral treatment programs. As they grow older, their parents/guardians are faced with the difficult decision of if, when, and how to inform their child of his/her HIV status. Both negative and positive social, psychological, and behavioral impacts of disclosure to children have been reported, including improved adherence to medication regimens. Understanding the disclosure process from the perspective of HIV positive children, therefore, is critical to developing these interventions. Through children's experiences we can learn about what works well, what needs to be strengthened, and what is missing in current disclosure practices. We conducted in-depth interviews with eight caregiver-child dyads in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo. The children were in a comprehensive HIV pediatric care and treatment program and had already been told their HIV diagnosis. For the analysis we placed particular emphasis on children's reports of communication with their caregivers and health care providers about their illness. Patterns emerged of limited communication between children and their caregivers as well as their providers, before, during, and after disclosure. From the perspective of children in this study, disclosure was largely a discrete event rather than a process. Sociocultural contexts surrounding HIV/AIDS, as well as health status, variations in parent-child communication and the relationships between health providers and children under their care, should inform psychosocial interventions delivered alongside treatment programs.


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