Background: Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy (HAART) has been available free of charge in Tanga, Tanzania since 2005. However we have found that a high percentage of women referred from prevention of mother-to-child transmission services to the Care and Treatment Clinics (CTC) for HAART never registered at the CTCs. Few studies have focused on the motivating and deterring factors to presenting for HAART particularly in relation to women. This study seeks to remedy this gap in knowledge.
Methodology: A qualitative approach using in-depth interviews and focus group discussions was chosen to understand these issues as perceived and interpreted by HIV infected women themselves.
Results: The main deterrent to presenting for treatment appears to be fear of stigmatization including fear of ostracism from the community, divorce and financial distress. Participants indicated that individual counselling and interaction with other people living with HIV encourages women, who are disinclined to present for HAART, to do so, and that placing the entrance to the CTC so as to provide discrete access increases the accessibility of the clinic.
Conclusion: Combating stigma in the community, although it is essential, will take time. Therefore necessary steps towards encouraging HIV infected women to seek treatment include reducing self-stigma, assisting them to form empowering relationships and to gain financial independence and emphasis by example of the beneficial effect of treatment for themselves and for their children. Furthermore ensuring a discrete location of the CTC can increase its perceived accessibility.