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AIDS Patient Care STDS. 2009 May;23(5):389-94. doi: 10.1089/apc.2008.0195.

Missed opportunities for religious organizations to support people living with HIV/AIDS: findings from Tanzania.

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Duke Global Health Institute, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina 27708, USA.


Religious beliefs play an important role in the lives of Tanzanians, but little is known about the influence of religion for people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA). This study shares perspectives of PLWHA and identifies opportunities for religious organizations to support the psychological well-being of this group. Data were collected in 2006 and 2007 through semistructured interviews with 36 clients (8 Muslims and 28 Christians) receiving free antiretrovirals (ARVs) in Arusha, Tanzania. Swahili-speaking interviewers asked about participation in religion, change in religious engagement since HIV diagnosis, and what role faith plays in living with HIV and taking ARVs. Interviews were audiotaped, transcribed, translated, and analyzed using Atlas t.i. The findings revealed that patients' personal faith positively influenced their experiences living with HIV, but that religious organizations had neutral or negative influences. On the positive side, prayer gave hope to live with HIV, and religious faith increased after diagnosis. Some respondents said that prayer supported their adherence to medications. On the other hand, few disclosed their HIV status in their religious communities, expressing fear of stigma. Most had heard that prayer can cure HIV, and two expected to be cured. While it was common to hear messages about HIV prevention from churches or mosques, few had heard messages about living with HIV. The findings point to missed opportunities by religious organizations to support PLWHA, particularly the need to ensure that messages about HIV are not stigmatizing; share information about HIV treatment; introduce role models of PLWHA; and emphasize that prayers and medical care go hand-in-hand.

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