HIV/AIDS has had a devastating impact at individual, household and community levels. This qualitative research investigates the role of HIV voluntary counselling and testing (VCT) and treatment in enabling HIV-positive Ugandans to cope with this disease. Twelve predetermined focus group discussions (FGDs) were conducted; six with men and six with women. Half of the men and women's groups were receiving antiretroviral therapy (ART) and half were not. An FGD was held with the health care providers administering ART. Testing for HIV was perceived as soliciting a death warrant. Participants affirmed that the incentive for testing was the possibility of accessing free ART. They described experiencing gender-variant stigma and depression on confirming their HIV status and commended the role of counselling in supporting them to adopt positive living. For those receiving ART, counselling reinforced treatment adherence. The findings also revealed gender differences in treatment adherence strategies. ART was described to reduce disease symptoms and restore physical health allowing them to resume their daily activities. Additionally, ART was preferred over traditional herbal treatment because it had clear dosages, expiry dates and was scientifically manufactured. Those that were not receiving ART bore myths and misconceptions about the effectiveness and side effects of ART, delaying the decision to seek treatment. Stigma and the attached concern of HIV/AIDS-related swift death, is a major barrier for VCT. Based on this study's findings, ensuring the provision of quality assured and gender conscious VCT and ART delivery services will enhance positive living and enforce compliance to ART programmes.
AIDS Care, Volume 21, Issue 7 July 2009 , pages 903 - 908 [doi:10.1080/09540120802657498]