The vulnerabilities that underlie barriers faced by the rural poor whilst trying to access and adhere to “free” antiretroviral treatment (ART) demand more attention. This paper highlights barriers that poor rural Zambians co-infected with tuberculosis (TB) and HIV and their households faced in accessing ART between September 2006 and July 2007, and accounts for patient outcomes by the end of TB treatment and (more sporadically) beyond October 2009. The analysis draws on findings from wider anthropological fieldwork on the converging impact of TB, HIV and food insecurity, focusing for the purpose of this paper on ethnographic case-studies of seven newly diagnosed TB patients co-infected with HIV and their six households (one household had two TB patients). Economic barriers included being pushed into deeper poverty by managing TB, rural location, absence of any external assistance, and mustering time and extended funds for transport and “special food” during and beyond the end of TB. In the case of death, funeral costs were astronomical. Social barriers included translocation, broken marriages, a sub-ordinate household position, gender relations, denial, TB/HIV stigma and the difficulty of disclosure. Health facility barriers involved understaffing, many steps, lengthy procedures and inefficiencies (lost blood samples, electricity cuts). By the end of TB treatment, outcomes were mixed; two co-infected patients had died, three had started ART and two had yet to start ART. The three on ART underwent a striking transformation in the short term. By October 2009, two more had died and three were doing well. The study advocates nutritional support and other material support (especially transport funds) for co-infected TB patients until ART is accessed and livelihood regained. More prompt diagnosis of TB and reducing steps and increasing the reach of the ART programme in rural areas are also recommended.
AIDS Care (2010) 22 (Suppl. 1) 51-59 [DOI: 10.1080/09540121003617372]