Palliative care for women living with HIV

By Faith Mwangi-Powell | May 20th, 2013
Palliative care for women living with HIV

In 2011, UNAIDS estimated that at the end of 2010 there were 34 million adults worldwide living with HIV and AIDS – out of which 70 percent were in Africa and 50 were women. The AIDS epidemic has had a unique impact on women, which has been made worse by their role within society and their biological vulnerability to HIV infection. Generally women are at a greater risk of heterosexual transmission of HIV and are twice as likely to become infected with HIV through unprotected heterosexual intercourse as men.

Sometimes, women infected by HIV do not access proper care due to their various responsibilities. However, there are a number of things that can be done in order to reduce the burden of the epidemic among women. These could include providing access to anti-retroviral therapy (ART), palliative care and promoting and protecting women’s human rights, increasing education and awareness among women and encouraging the development of new preventative technologies.

More generally though for patients with HIV infection, studies have shown that pain is present throughout the disease trajectory. At least 80 percent of those with advanced disease experience moderate to severe pain. In addition, patients on anti-retroviral therapy (ART) experience chronic symptoms such as fatigue, anorexia, nausea and vomiting.

Consequently, the World Health Organization (WHO) has identified palliative care as an essential component of comprehensive HIV care not only to address pain but also to deal with the burdensome symptoms which people living with HIV experience as well as other spiritual, social and psychological issues.

Therefore, it is important to pay attention to the benefits of palliative care for patients with HIV in improving their quality of life and addressing adherence issues and other complex psychosocial issues faced by patients living with HIV.

This publication – which was produced by the African Palliative Care Association (APCA) with support from the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) – discusses some of the benefits of palliative care for women living with HIV and AIDS and provides some case studies of real women who have had experience of palliative care. This information is intended to help women living with HIV, their families and others in the community who support them to understand their illness and to help address some of the questions they might have with regard to the illness and how they can get help.

This document provides a good start towards understanding the role of palliative care for women living with HIV, their families, caregivers and health professionals. People can use this information:

  • As an individual to make good decisions;
  • During information sharing within a support group;
  • While providing health services to give take home messages; and
  • As an advocacy tool to help others support quality care for WLHIV.

It is acknowledged that individual situations might require specific information other than what is provided here in this document. We hope that women living with HIV and AIDS, community members and health professionals working with them will find this a useful resource in addressing complex questions in a simple and straightforward manner.

There is a second publication in this series, which provides information on Palliative care for women living with HIV and cancer.

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