Research Article

Experiences of intimate relationships, stigma, social support and treatment adherence among HIV-positive adolescents in Chiredzi district, Zimbabwe


Abstract

This study explored experiences of intimate relationships, stigma, social support and treatment adherence among HIV-positive adolescents in Chiredzi district, Zimbabwe. The study adopted an interpretive qualitative methodology to explore the intricacies of living with HIV as an adolescent. Thirty (N = 30) adolescents aged between 13 and 19 years participated in this study. They were recruited while attending social support or during their routine visits to collect antiretrovirals. In-depth interviews were conducted to generate data. Adolescents were asked about their romantic lives and the difficulties they faced while living with HIV. Findings revealed that adolescents living with HIV (ALHIV) are confronted with stigma and discrimination. They also grapple with emotional issues such as dealing with disclosure. However, social support minimises the risk of harbouring suicidal thoughts. To the various challenges ALHIV face, most of them (particularly males) adopt several coping mechanisms. These include (but are not limited to) non-disclosure of their seropositive status to sexual partners, thereby risking reinfection and exposing their partners to HIV. Non-disclosure of seropositive status contributed to either poor antiretroviral therapy (ART) adherence or defaulting on HIV medication. A life-cycle approach to HIV prevention and management is crucial to mitigating the challenges faced by ALHIV because risks of HIV infection, challenges of access to HIV services and solutions to these challenges change at different stages of someone’s life. This scenario justifies the necessity of a holistic bio-psychosocial approach to managing HIV among adolescents, not only limited to the client, but also involving appropriate education programmes for the broader community.

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