Background: Hypertension, a leading risk for cardiovascular mortality, is an important co-morbidity among people living with HIV (PLHIV). In Tanzania, hypertension prevalence among PLHIV approaches 20 to 30%. However, most patients are unaware of their diagnosis and are not receiving treatment. Understanding the barriers to hypertension care is a critical first step in developing interventions to improve cardiovascular outcomes among PLHIV in Tanzania and similar settings.
Methods: Between September 1st and November 26th, 2018 thirteen semi structured in-depth interviews were conducted with hypertensive patients engaged in HIV care in two HIV clinics located in government health facilities in northern Tanzania. Interviews were audio-recorded, translated into English, transcribed and thematically coded using NVivo. Data analysis was conducted using applied thematic analysis.
Results: Participants had a median age of 54 (IQR 41-65) years. Of the 13 participants, eight stated they had used antihypertensive medication previously, but only one participant described current use of antihypertensive therapy. All participants were currently using antiretroviral therapy. The data revealed a range of themes including limited hypertension knowledge. Universally, all participants believed that "thinking too much", i.e. stress, was the major contributor to hypertension and that by "reducing thoughts", one may control hypertension. Additional emerging themes included a perceived overlap between hypertension and HIV, delays in hypertension diagnosis and linkage to care, challenges with provider communication and counseling, reluctance towards antihypertensive medication, lack of integration of hypertension and HIV care, and additional structural barriers to hypertension care.
Conclusions: Participants described multiple, intersecting challenges related to hypertension management. Barriers specific to PLHIV included siloed care, HIV-related stigma, and burden from multiple medical conditions. Multifaceted strategies that seek to address structural barriers, hypertension education, psychosocial stressors and stigma, and that are integrated within HIV care are urgently needed to improve cardiovascular outcomes among PLHIV in sub-Saharan Africa.