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Open Access Research article

Maternal HIV disclosure to HIV-uninfected children in rural South Africa: a pilot study of a family-based intervention

Tamsen J Rochat1*, Ntombizodumo Mkwanazi2 and Ruth Bland3

Author Affiliations

1 Africa Centre for Health and Population Studies, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Mtubatuba, South Africa, and Department of Psychology, Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa

2 Africa Centre for Health and Population Studies, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Mtubatuba, South Africa, and School of Public Health, University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa

3 Africa Centre for Health and Population Studies, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Mtubatuba, South Africa; School of Medicine, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, United Kingdom, and School of Public Health, University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa

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BMC Public Health 2013, 13:147  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-147

Published: 18 February 2013

Abstract

Background

As access to treatment increases, large numbers of HIV-positive parents are raising HIV-negative children. Maternal HIV disclosure has been shown to have benefits for mothers and children, however, disclosure rates remain low with between 30-45% of mothers reporting HIV disclosure to their children in both observational and intervention studies. Disclosure of HIV status by parent to an HIV-uninfected child is a complex and challenging psychological and social process. No intervention studies have been designed and tested in Southern Africa to support HIV-positive parents to disclose their status, despite this region being one of the most heavily affected by the HIV epidemic.

Method

This paper describes the development of a family-centred, structured intervention to support mothers to disclose their HIV status to their HIV-negative school-aged children in rural South Africa, an area with high HIV prevalence. The intervention package includes printed materials, therapeutic tools and child-friendly activities and games to support age-appropriate maternal HIV disclosure, and has three main aims: (1) to benefit family relationships by increasing maternal HIV disclosure; (2) to increase children’s knowledge about HIV and health; (3) to improve the quality of custody planning for children with HIV-positive mothers. We provide the theoretical framework for the intervention design and report the results of a small pilot study undertaken to test its acceptability in the local context.

Results

The intervention was piloted with 24 Zulu families, all mothers were HIV-positive and had an HIV-negative child aged 6–9 years. Lay counsellors delivered the six session intervention over a six to eight week period. Qualitative data were collected on the acceptability, feasibility and the effectiveness of the intervention in increasing disclosure, health promotion and custody planning. All mothers disclosed something to their children: 11/24 disclosed fully using the words "HIV" while 13/24 disclosed partially using the word "virus".

Conclusion

The pilot study found the intervention was feasible and acceptable to mothers and counsellors, and provides preliminary evidence that participation in the intervention encouraged disclosure and health promotion. The pilot methodology and small sample size has limitations and further research is required to test the potential of this intervention. A larger demonstration project with 300 families is currently underway.

Keywords:
Intervention; HIV-disclosure; Family-centred; Maternal HIV-disclosure