The experiences of people living with HIV/AIDS in Gaborone, Botswana: stigma, its consequences and coping mechanisms
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Background: This study was carried out in Bontleng, Extension 14 and Old Naledi, which are low-income residential areas of Gaborone, Botswana. The aim of the study was to explore the experiences of people living with human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immune deficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS). The study was an attempt to discover the experience of the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) and how they coped living with the infection. Method: This was a qualitative, phenomenological, cross-sectional study. Fifteen participants were selected by purposive sampling, and gave their consent for face-to-face, in-depth, audiotaped interviews. The interviews were transcribed and content analysis applied to the transcripts. Results: The diagnosis or manifestation of HIV/AIDS led to external and internal (self) stigmatisation, which seemed to manifest in ways peculiar to the Botswana context, and affected almost all areas of the lives of PLWHA. Stigmatisation and the progression of the disease led to psycho-emotional disturbances, job losses, poverty, dependence, moving in with relatives, concerns about children, the strain or disruption of relationships and painful bodily symptoms. Participants wanted to be gainfully employed as soon as their health improved, and detested having to depend on other people and organisations for their needs. They found the emotional support of other PLWHA to be more meaningful than counselling by healthcare workers. Religion was used by some to cope with life as an HIV-infected person. Conclusion: Internal and external stigmatisation seemed to characterise the experience of participants. Stigmatisation negatively impacted on the lives of PLWHA, as well as strategies to combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Stigmitisation needs to be prevented at all levels. PLWHA have needs that require interventions that address their special circumstances.