"It's a secret between us": a qualitative study on children and care-giver experiences of HIV disclosure in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo.

Affiliation

Sumbi EM(#)(1), Venables E(#)(2)(3), Harrison R(1), Garcia M(4), Iakovidi K(4), van Cutsem G(4), Chalachala JL(5).
Author information:
(1)Médecins Sans Frontières, Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo.
(2)Southern Africa Medical Unit, Médecins Sans Frontières, Main Road, Observatory, Cape Town, South Africa. [Email]
(3)Division of Social and Behavioural Sciences, School of Public Health and Family Medicine, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa. [Email]
(4)Southern Africa Medical Unit, Médecins Sans Frontières, Main Road, Observatory, Cape Town, South Africa.
(5)Carolina Population Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC, USA.
(#)Contributed equally

Abstract

BACKGROUND: It is estimated that 64,000 children under 15 years of age are living with HIV in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Non-disclosure - in which the child is not informed about their HIV status - is likely to be associated with poor outcomes during adolescence including increased risk of poor adherence and retention, and treatment failure. Disclosing a child's HIV status to them can be a difficult process for care-givers and children, and in this qualitative study we explored child and care-giver experiences of the process of disclosing, including reasons for delay. METHODS: A total of 22 in-depth interviews with care-givers and 11 in-depth interviews with HIV positive children whom they were caring for were conducted in one health-care facility in the capital city of Kinshasa. Care-givers were purposively sampled to include those who had disclosed to their children and those who had not. Care-givers included biological parents, grandmothers, siblings and community members and 86% of them were female. Interviews were conducted in French and Lingala. All interviews were translated and/or transcribed into French before being manually coded. Thematic analysis was conducted. Verbal informed consent/assent was taken from all interviewees. RESULTS: At the time of interview, the mean age of children and care-givers was 17 (15-19) and 47 (21-70) years old, respectively. Many care-givers had lost family members due to HIV and several were HIV positive themselves. Reasons for non-disclosure included fear of stigmatisation; wanting to protect the child and not having enough knowledge about HIV or the status of the child to disclose. Several children had multiple care-givers, which also delayed disclosure, as responsibility for the child was shared. In addition, some care-givers were struggling to accept their own HIV status and did not want their child to blame them for their own positive status by disclosing to them. CONCLUSIONS: Child disclosure is a complex process for care-givers, health-care workers and the children themselves. Care-givers may require additional psycho-social support to manage disclosure. Involving multiple care-givers in the care of HIV positive children could offer additional support for disclosure.