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HIV disclosure and discussions about grief with Shona children: a comparison between health care workers and community members in Eastern Zimbabwe

Publication year
De Baets, A. J.; Sifovo, S.; Parsons, R.; Pazvakavambwa, I. E.

Research in HIV-related counseling for African children has concentrated on urban tertiary hospitals, but most children have their first health care encounter at a rural primary health care center. This study investigated perceptions about the acceptability of disclosing the parents’ or child’s HIV status to a child and talking about grief with children, as well as the preferred time, type and setting for HIV disclosure. An anonymous survey was taken from 64 primary health care workers and 131 community members from rural Eastern Zimbabwe. The results expressed a high need and desire for such communications and should be interpreted against a background of high perceived confidence to talk about grief with adults and a high degree of familiarity with child bereavement and foster care. The participants preferred that partial disclosure occurs from the age of 10.8 (+/-4.2) years and full disclosure from the age of 14.4 (+/-4.5) years. Compared to community members, health care workers were significantly more open to full disclosure and disclosure at a younger age but were slightly less open to discussing grief. The different preferred combinations of persons to initiate such communications included a health care worker in up to 56% of the responses and a family member in up to 52%. The most commonly preferred family members were father’s sister (up to 37%) and grandmother (up to 40%) rather than the partner (up to 15%). Southern African family dynamics may hinder a mother initiating HIV disclosure and discussions about grief, even though she is traditionally present during HIV diagnosis, counseling and health education. A more culturally adapted approach than the standard Western ‘couple approach’ may thus be required. Consequently, counseling training models may need to be adapted. Further research into empowering mothers to involve significant members from the extended family may be highly beneficial.

Research abstracts