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Growing up on HAART: The experiences and needs of HIV positive adolescents in care and treatment in the Western Cape Province of South Africa

Year: 2009
Working paper number: 249
Author: Li, Rachel
Unit: ASRU

HIV positive adolescents are becoming a progressively more sizeable and prominent sub-group in the South African HIV/AIDS epidemic. As HAART becomes increasingly available, vertically infected children can be expected to survive into adolescence and adulthood. Additionally, sexual transmission of HIV remains a problem, and incidence and prevalence rates among South African youth are high. Experience from the developed world indicates that providing effective care and treatment for youth can be a challenging task. In light of the antiretroviral rollout in South Africa, this exploratory study aimed to identify the experiences and needs of adolescents growing up in care or on treatment for HIV in the Western Cape.

To this end, a review of the existing literature on the psychosocial aspects of HIV infection in adolescents was undertaken. Relevant articles were identified, summarized and entered into a database, and particular attention was given to research conducted in the context of sub-Saharan Africa. Additionally, focus groups interviews were conducted with 26 young people attending an adolescent infectious diseases clinic at a tertiary hospital in the Western Cape. Focus groups proceeded according to a pre-set discussion guide and investigated participants' current life experiences, views on the future, and self-perceived needs. All interviews were recorded, translated into English, and transcribed, and data were coded and analyzed using NVivo qualitative data analysis software.

The study revealed that the psychosocial issues associated with HIV infection in adolescents coalesce around five central themes: knowledge and understanding about personal serostatus, mental health, networks of support, treatment management, and healthy behaviour. These issues present challenges to HIV positive adolescents in the present, and affect their outlook on the future. Findings reveal that despite the fact that young seropositive South Africans live in a country where social contexts, available resources and healthcare systems differ markedly from those in developed countries, they share similar concerns and face many of the same challenges as other HIV positive young people around the world. Future studies should investigate each of the five identified themes in greater depth by determining the contextual correlates of individual views, experiences and needs.

Publication file: WP249.pdf