African Journal of AIDS Research

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Community beliefs, HIV stigma, and depression among adolescents living with HIV in rural Uganda

Scholastic Ashaba, Christine E. Cooper-Vince, Dagmar Vořechovská, Godfrey Zari Rukundo, Samuel Maling, Dickens Akena, Alexander C. Tsai


The availability of and increased access to antiretroviral therapy (ART) has significantly reduced the morbidity and mortality associated with HIV. As a result, perinatally infected youth are increasingly able to reach adolescence. There is limited information about the psychosocial challenges facing adolescents living with HIV (ALWH) in rural settings of sub-Saharan Africa. We sought to understand psychosocial challenges facing ALWH in rural Uganda and their effects on mental health and HIV treatment outcomes. We conducted 5 focus group discussions and 40 one-on-one in-depth interviews in Mbarara, Uganda with adolescents (aged 13–17 years) and adult women caregivers. All interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed directly into English, and coded using thematic analysis to identify themes related to psychosocial adversities and mental health. Adversities faced by adolescents included negative community perceptions (perceived aggression, presumed early mortality), HIV stigma (enacted and internalized), vulnerability factors (loss of parents, poverty), and health challenges (depression, ART non-adherence). In the conceptual model that emerged from the findings, negative community perceptions (about perceived aggression or presumed early mortality) predisposed ALWH to experience enactments and internalization of stigma that led to depression and ART non-adherence. The data also identified several protective factors, including counselling, family and religious support, and timely serostatus disclosure. Interventions to correct community misperceptions about HIV can potentially reduce stigma and thereby improve physical and mental health outcomes of ALWH.

Keywords: discrimination, mental health, psychological health, social norms, social support, sub-Saharan Africa, youth

AJOL African Journals Online