Knowledge of antiretroviral therapy (ART) among children with HIV depends on open communication with them about their health and medicines. Guidelines assign responsibility for communication to children's home caregivers. Other research suggests that communication is poor and knowledge about ART is low among children on treatment in low-income countries. This study sought to describe communication about medicine for HIV in quantitative terms from the perspectives of both children and caregivers. Thereafter, it established the factors associated with this communication and with children's knowledge about their HIV medicines.
We undertook a cross-sectional survey of a random sample of 394 children with HIV on treatment and their caregivers at nine health facilities in Jinja District, Uganda. We assessed reported frequency and content of communication regarding their medicines as well as knowledge of what the medicines were for. Logistic regression analysis was used to determine the factors associated with communication patterns and children's knowledge of HIV medicines.
Although 79.6% of the caregivers reported that they explained to the children about the medicines, only half (50.8%) of the children said they knew that they were taking medicines for HIV. Older children aged 15–17 years were less likely to communicate with a caregiver about the HIV medicines in the preceding month (OR 0.5, 95% CI 0.3–0.7, p=0.002). Children aged 11–14 years (OR 6.1, 95% CI 2.8–13.7, p<0.001) and 15–17 years (OR 12.6, 95% CI 4.6–34.3, p<0.001) were more likely to know they were taking medicines for HIV compared to the younger ones. The least common reported topic of discussion between children and caregivers was “what the medicines are for” while “the time to take medicines” was by far the most mentioned by children.
Communication about, and knowledge of, HIV medicines among children with HIV is low. Young age (less than 15 years) was associated with more frequent communication. Caregivers should be supported to communicate diagnosis and treatment to children with HIV. Age-sensitive guidelines about the nature and content of communication should be developed.
Keywords: children with HIV, antiretroviral therapy, HIV disclosure, therapeutic communication, Uganda