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‘I left my lifeline’: Understanding use and refusal of alternative therapies among people living with HIV in the Pacific Islands

‘I left my lifeline’: Understanding use and refusal of alternative therapies among people living with HIV in the Pacific Islands

Antiretroviral therapy (ART) became available in the Pacific Islands in the early 2000s, yet many people living with HIV (PLHIV) continue to turn to alternative therapies. ART is used to treat HIV infection, whereas for many people alternative therapies offer the hope of a cure or less harmful side effects. Use of alternative therapies in some cases leads people to forgo ART. This paper explores the use of alternative therapies among Pacific PLHIV including the types used, reasons for using them and why some respondents refused them.

A qualitative and participatory methodology was employed for this study, where a team of eight PLHIV peer researchers worked in collaboration with the lead researcher to carry out the study. In-depth interviews were used to explore HIV-positive people’s experiences of treatment, a total of 49 interviews were conducted with participants from five Pacific Island countries and territories including Fiji, Guam, Kiribati, Samoa and Solomon Islands.

Alternative therapies were used in every country and more than half of the respondents had tried an alternative therapy at some point since being diagnosed HIV-positive. Approximately half of those who tried alternative therapies ceased ART at the same time. The alternative therapies used were often a combination of herbal medicines, faith healing and traditional medicines. People mainly used alternative therapies because they were seeking or offered a cure. Yet, many participants also described how they choose not to use alternative therapies when they were offered because they had been cautioned by health workers or they simply did not believe in them.

This presentation will elaborate on how health workers in the Pacific Islands have an important role to play in cautioning PLHIV from using alternative therapies instead of ART.

Speakers: Hilary Gorman
Conference: ASHM 2013

Australian Society for HIV 2013

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