According to UNAIDS, 19.4 million people were living with HIV (PLWH) in Eastern and Southern Africa in 2016, representing 43% of total new HIV infections worldwide. Research has shown that social support is one of the factors that contribute to improved physical and emotional well-being for PLWH, however, access to HIV-specific social support requires disclosure of HIV status. Disclosure is an ongoing process involving evaluation of risks, benefits, and potential stigmatization as well as consideration of to whom one should disclose, taking into consideration that disclosing can change relationships.
How pre-existing social support and relationship violence among people living with HIV shapes and influences HIV status disclosure has received limited attention. Elizabeth Kelvin, Associate Professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, and colleagues used the Disclosure Process Model to investigate pre-disclosure social support and violence-prone relationships as predictors of disclosure using data from a prospective study of 459 newly diagnosed South African women and men.
Findings showed that level of social support was unrelated to disclosure to a partner. Most (88%) disclosed their status to at least one person by their 8-month interview. However, those with higher levels of support had higher odds of disclosing to family and to others.
Women in violence-prone relationships were more likely to report disclosure to a partner than were those not in such relationships, which was surprising in that it ran counter to expectations.
The findings suggest that the same mechanisms may not explain processes of disclosure across all relationship types.