BMJ open 2018 03 308(3) e020208 doi 10.1136/bmjopen-2017-020208
To describe the experiences of the HIV treatment cascade of diagnosis, engagement with care and initiation of treatment from the perspective of patients; we explored whether this differed according to the year of their diagnosis, for example, whether they had experienced HIV care in the pretreatment era.
Qualitative interview study with framework analysis.
Two large HIV adult outpatient clinics in central London.
52 HIV-positive individuals, 41 men, 11 women, purposively sampled to include people who had been diagnosed at different stages in the history of the epidemic classified as four ‘generations’: pre-1996 (preantiretroviral therapy (ART)), 1997-2005 (complex ARTs), 2006-2012 (simpler ARTs) and 2013 onwards (recent diagnoses).
Some important differences were identified; for earlier generations, the visible illness and deaths from AIDS made it harder to engage with care following diagnosis. Subsequent decisions about starting treatment were deeply influenced by the fear of severe side effects from early ART. However, despite improvements in ART and life expectancy over the epidemic, we found a striking similarity across participants’ accounts of the key stages of the care continuum, regardless of when they were diagnosed. Diagnosis was a major traumatic life event for almost everyone. Fear of testing positive or having low self-perceived risk affected the timing of testing and diagnosis. Engaging with care was facilitated by a flexible approach from services/clinicians. Initiating treatment was a major life decision.
We found patients’ experiences are influenced by when they were diagnosed, with earliest cohorts facing substantial challenges. However, being diagnosed with HIV and starting treatment continue to be significant life-altering events even in the era of effective, simple treatments. Despite the advances of biomedical treatment, services should continue to recognise the needs of patients for whom the diagnosis and treatment remain significant challenges.