Personal coping strategies for managing the side effects of antiretroviral therapy among patients at an HIV/AIDS clinic in Uganda

  • Rogers Kyajja
  • Joshua Kanaabi Muliira
  • Elizabeth Ayebare


The side effects of antiretroviral (ARV) medications negatively impact patients' quality of life and adherence to treatment. This study describes the burden of side effects from ARV treatment as experienced by a sample of HIV/AIDS patients and identifies the personal strategies they used to cope with the side effects. A total of 166 participants were recruited from a non-governmental HIV/AIDS clinic in Entebbe, Uganda. Most of the participants (76%) were females and the mean age of the sample was 38 years. Although the participants had taken ARV medications for an average period of nine months, a large proportion (76%) could not name the medications they were taking. The mean side-effects burden for the participants was five side effects. The most common adverse effects reported were tiredness, nightmares, mood swings, nausea, poor appetite, insomnia, vomiting and dizziness. The main strategies the patients used for coping with the side effects were those categorised under informationseeking, social-support seeking and positive-emotion-focused coping. However, 27% of the participants reported non-adherence to their ARV medications as a strategy to cope with the side effects. The findings show a significant relationship between the side-effects burden and a patientfs age (r = 0.530, p ≤ 0.01) and level of education (r = 0.394, p ≤ 0.01). The findings indicate that in the short term after initiating ARV treatment most patients are able to cope with the high burden of side effects through appropriate strategies, but a sizable portion will fail to cope appropriately and thus resort to non-adherence. Clinicians should assist patients with continuous health education and counselling that focuses on appropriate strategies to cope with the side effects of ARVs in order to buffer the negative impact of HIV treatment on patientsf adherence and quality of life.

Keywords: adverse effects, compliance, HIV medication adherence, quality of life, east Africa, support services

African Journal of AIDS Research 2010, 9(3): 205–211

Author Biographies

Rogers Kyajja
Mulago National Referral Hospital, PO Box 22984, Kampala, Uganda
Joshua Kanaabi Muliira
Makerere University, School of Health Sciences, PO Box 7072, Kampala, Uganda
Elizabeth Ayebare
Makerere University, School of Health Sciences, PO Box 7072, Kampala, Uganda

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1608-5906
print ISSN: 1727-9445