Secret pills: HIV-positive patients' experiences taking antiretroviral therapy in North Carolina

AIDS Educ Prev. 2002 Aug;14(4):318-29. doi: 10.1521/aeap.14.5.318.23870.


Understanding the barriers to antiretroviral adherence is a critical step in improving the effectiveness of HIV treatment and saving lives. We sought to assess, qualitatively, the experiences of HIV-positive persons taking antiretroviral therapy (ART) in North Carolina. Twenty-four people participated in one of six focus groups. A structured interview script included three questions (two open-ended) and eight probes. Each discussion was taped, transcribed, and content-analyzed. Three distinct themes emerged. First, many participants believed that taking ART was lifesaving but missed doses because they feared that taking them in public would reveal their HIV status. Second, as a result, participants often found it difficult to integrate their regimens into the most basic daily activities. Finally, participants stressed the importance of having open, ongoing dialogues about their treatment plans and privacy needs with a wide range of health care workers. Multidimensional, tailored interventions may help persons living with HIV overcome the stigma and other complex barriers they face in taking antiretroviral therapy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antiretroviral Therapy, Highly Active*
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • HIV Infections / drug therapy*
  • HIV Infections / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • North Carolina
  • Patient Compliance / psychology*