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Background: Support groups are an appropriate way of delivering psychosocial support to people living with HIV/AIDS, especially in low-resource countries. The aim of the study was to understand why people with HIV attended psychosocial support groups.
Methods: This was a qualitative study design using focus-group discussions in which support-group members volunteered to participate. Five focus groups were involved in the study.
Results: The participants attended because they were referred by a health-care worker, wanted information, wanted emotional support, accompanied an ill relative or knew about the support group. Perceived benefits included receiving psychological support, accepting one’s HIV status, reducing stigma and isolation, increasing hope, forging new friendships, helping others, obtaining HIV-related information, developing strategies to change behaviour, gaining access to medical care at the adjoining HIV clinic and receiving food donations. Negative aspects of attending the support group included the large size of the support group, long queues at the HIV clinic, concerns about confidentiality and negative staff attitudes towards the participants. Leaders were concerned about conflict, burn-out and impractical protocols. Access to disability grants was also a concern.
Conclusions: Support groups can assist members to cope with the various challenges associated with living with HIV/AIDS through offering structured emotional, informational, instrumental and material support. Support group sizes should be limited. A structured curriculum containing up-to-date information about ART should also be offered to support groups. Social workers should furthermore be involved to facilitate access to appropriate social grants. Finally, support group leaders should receive appropriate training and regular debriefing.
Keywords: HIV; support groups; people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA); prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTCT)