HIV Disclosure: Parental dilemma in informing HIV infected Children about their HIV Status in Malawi

  • P Mandalazi
  • C Bandawe
  • E Umar


Background: Increasingly many perinatally HIV-infected children are surviving through adolescence and adulthood as a result of improvements in the management of paediatric HIV infection, particularly the increased use of combination therapy. It is usually the parents or guardians of these children who are faced with the task of informing the child living with HIV about his or her positive status. However, many parents—particularly biological parents —find this disclosure process difficult to initiate, and this study explored some of the difficulties that these parents encounter.
Objective: This study set out to explore potential factors that challenge parents and guardians when informing their perinatally HIV-infected child about the child’s HIV status.
Design: This was a qualitative narrative study that employed in-depth interviews with parents or guardians of children perinatally infected with HIV. A total of 20 parents and guardians of children who attend the outpatient HIV clinic at the Baylor College of Medicine-Abbott Fund Children’s Clinical Centre of Excellence (COE) in Lilongwe, Malawi were interviewed. Of these, 14 were biological parents and six were guardians.
Results: Guardians and parents expressed uneasiness and apprehension with the disclosure conversation, whether or not they had already told their child that he or she had HIV. Participants who had not told their children recounted that they had contemplated starting the conversation but could not gather enough courage to follow through with those thoughts. They cited the fear of robbing their child of the happiness of living without the knowledge of being positive, fear of making their own status known to more people, and fear of confrontation or creating enmity with their child as impediments to disclosing their child’s positive HIV status to him or her.
Conclusions: It is apparent that guardians—more particularly biological parents—of children perinatally infected by HIV find it difficult to inform their children about their children’s HIV status. From this disempowered position, parents dread the disclosure of a positive HIV status to a child as a psychosocial process that has the potential to disturb a family’s previously established equilibrium with threats of stigmatization,  marginalization, and parent-child conflict. This calls for strategies that could support parents to make disclosure to the child less challenging.

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1995-7262
print ISSN: 1995-7262