"Just like fever": a qualitative study on the impact of antiretroviral provision on the normalisation of HIV in rural Tanzania and its implications for prevention
1 Centre for Population Studies, Department of Epidemiology and Population Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, 49-51 Bedford Square, London, WC 1B 3DP, UK
2 TAZAMA Project, Tanzanian National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR), PO Box 1462, Mwanza, Tanzania
BMC International Health and Human Rights 2009, 9:22 doi:10.1186/1472-698X-9-22Published: 9 September 2009
Once effective therapy for a previously untreatable condition is made available, a normalisation of the disease often occurs. As part of a broader initiative to monitor the implementation of the national antiretroviral therapy (ART) programme, this qualitative study investigated the impact of ART availability on perceptions of HIV in a rural ward of North Tanzania and its implications for prevention.
A mix of qualitative methods was used including semi-structured interviews with 53 ART clinic clients and service providers. Four group activities were conducted with persons living with HIV. Data were analyzed using the qualitative software package NVIVO-7.
People on ART often reported feeling increasingly comfortable with their status reflecting a certain "normalization" of the disease. This was attributed to seeing other people affected by HIV, regaining physical health, returning to productive activities and receiving emotional support from health service providers. Overcoming internalized feelings of shame facilitated disclosure of HIV status, helped to sustain treatment, and stimulated VCT uptake. However "blaming" stigma - where people living with HIV were considered responsible for acquiring a "moral disease" - persisted in the community and anticipating it was a key barrier to disclosure and VCT uptake. Attributing HIV symptoms to witchcraft seemed an effective mechanism to transfer "blame" from the family unit to an external force but could lead to treatment interruption.
As long as an HIV diagnosis continues to have moral connotations, a de-stigmatisation of HIV paralleling that occurring with diseases like cancer is unlikely to occur. Maximizing synergies between HIV treatment and prevention requires an enabling environment for HIV status disclosure, treatment continuation, and safer sexual behaviours. Local leaders should be informed and sensitised and communities mobilised to address the blame-dimension of HIV stigma.