A decade ago there were no studies that have examined the particular needs and experiences of African women living with HIV in the UK. At that time women from Africa began to represent an increasingly large proportion of the UK HIV epidemic. This study explored the lived reality of HIV-positive African women receiving treatment in London. Sixty-two women from 11 African countries attending HIV specialist clinics in five London hospitals self-completed questionnaires and participated in in-depth semi-structured interviews.
Women were asked to talk about their HIV status in the broader context of their life history. Important differences exist among these women based on nationality, income, education level and legal status in the UK. However, marked similarities also emerged which were related in part to their situation as migrants and were compounded by their HIV status. Stigma, both actual and perceived, had a profound impact on women’s lives, making control of information about their status a matter of acute concern. This had an effect on how women accessed health services as well as voluntary sector agencies.
The resilience of the women in dealing with difficulties in their lives was often strengthened by their faith. Such similarities and differences need to be properly understood by health and social care professionals if they are to offer the most appropriate care for a growing population among people living with HIV.