Dealing with a positive HIV diagnosis : a qualitative study exploring the lives of five people living with HIV in a rural Eastern Cape setting.
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Receiving an HIV diagnosis is a complex reality facing individuals. It alters life and its meaning for the infected individual, their family and the community. This study explored the experiences of five people infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) in a rural South African community. The aim was to understand the challenges faced by those living with HIV and the role their environment played in the management of the virus. The focus was on uncovering the meaning that the individuals attach to being diagnosed with HIV and how they perceived themselves in relation to their community. A qualitative study that paid attention to the participant’s subjective experiences was implemented. In-depth interviews were conducted with five participants (two men and three women) who had self-reported living with HIV. Questions relating to management of the virus were posed to the participants, for example: why they decided to take an HIV test, the process they went through in accepting the diagnosis, their experience around disclosure, and around treatment. The interviews were transcribed and translated from isiXhosa to English by the researcher. Thematic analysis was used to analyse the transcribed data. The results of this study showed that participants experienced feelings of despair and helplessness upon diagnosis. The future of their children in the event of their inevitable death was a concern for the women in the study. While these fears were constantly present, the support of family members and close acquaintances helped the participants to accept their diagnosis. Disclosing their HIV status was a key decision for participants. Deciding to whom to disclose, and how to disclose was important. It was easier for the participants to disclose to females i.e. mothers, sisters or female friends. Disclosing to a sexual partner was difficult for those participants who were in relationships and in most of the relationships condom usage changed with the disclosure of the status. The participants experienced lack of acceptance within their community. Interventions to optimize perceptions of social support and community acceptance are needed.