BACKGROUND: HIV-related incidence and mortality is increasing across Peru, with highest mortality rates recorded in the Amazonian region of Loreto. This epidemic is concentrated in men who have sex with men, a population with 14% HIV treatment adherence despite free national provision. This study investigates barriers and facilitators to following healthcare advice through experiences and perceptions of HIV-positive men who have sex with men and healthcare professionals in Loreto.
METHODS: Twenty qualitative interviews with HIV-positive men who have sex with men and one focus group with HIV-specialist healthcare professionals were conducted in Loreto, January-February 2019. Interviews were transcribed per verbatim. Thematic content analysis and deviant case analysis were used.
RESULTS: A culture of isolation and discrimination was identified, propagated by poor public knowledge surrounding HIV transmission and treatment. Employment potential was hampered and 7/20 patients had suicidal thoughts post-diagnosis. Barriers to care included: shame, depression, travel cost/times, a preference for traditional plant-based medicine and side-effects of antiretroviral therapy. Facilitators included: education, family and clinic support, disease acceptance and lifestyle changes.
CONCLUSION: More effective, focussed community education and workplace discrimination investigations are recommended to reduce stigma and increase adherence to treatment in this population.