Australia’s rate of HIV is low. In 2010, women made up 8.9 per cent of the population of people living with HIV and AIDS, a total of 2074 women. Because of Australia’s large size and moderate population, these women are widely dispersed, often isolated.
‘This study looks at how women living with HIV experience pregnancy and their use of antiretroviral therapy when administering it to themselves and their children,’ says Dr McDonald.
In-depth interviews were conducted with 34 HIV-positive women in 2001 who were diagnosed during their childbearing years. This paper reports on 16 women who gave birth to 23 children after becoming aware of their HIV status.
In order to provide effective and appropriate health care for women living with HIV/AIDS and their babies, health-care professionals need to consider the mother’s perspective. According to Dr McDonald, women taking ARV asserted a lack of scientific explanation for many of the experiences with the treatment.
Almost all the women in the study accepted that taking treatment during pregnancy and giving treatment to their newborn babies was one of the final steps in the pursuit of a healthy HIV-negative baby. However, the few who rejected treatments for themselves or their babies cited a suspicion towards the suitability of AIDS care for infants.
‘It is not that these women failed to understand the scientific reasons behind the prevention of mother-to-child transmission, rather, they identified their primary role as protectors of their children, including protection against the medical fraternity and drug companies,’ she says.
‘To maximise the benefit of antiretroviral therapy for mothers and babies, thereby reducing the risk of transmission, it is imperative to understand a woman’s explanation of what therapy means to her, and advisable to presume that she wants the best for her baby.
‘Such an approach will facilitate better communication and encourage clinicians and patients to work towards a shared goal,’ says Dr McDonald.
The study—HIV-positive women in Australia explain their use and non-use of antiretroviral therapy in preventing mother-to-child transmission— was first published in AIDS Care and is available on request.
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