Many persons living with HIV, including those from sub-Saharan Africa, face social isolation and stigma. A University of Minnesota School of Public Health study found that many rural Ethiopian patients newly entering HIV care experience gaps in perceived social support in one or more areas. Provision of social support has been associated with improved medication adherence and increased mental and physical health.
The study, which recently appeared in the journal AIDS Care, School of Public Health professor Dr. Alan Lifson and his Ethiopian colleagues interviewed 142 HIV-positive patients newly enrolled in care at a rural hospital in the Rift Valley foothills of southern Ethiopia. A survey verbally administered in Amharic to these patients contained a 24-item scale assessing social support. The average score on the survey’s social summary support scales was 19 out of a possible 48. Scores were lowest for subscales measuring the belief that others can be counted on to provide tangible assistance, and a feeling of emotional closeness to others that provides a sense of security.
“This study confirms that a number of HIV patients new to care feel that they lack support from others, both for help with their daily needs and for emotional support,” said Dr. Lifson. “Raising social support can be a key factor in helping HIV patients maintain a better physical and mental quality of life.”
Follow-up data from a second study published in the Journal of the International Association of Providers of AIDS Care showed that assigning trained community support workers to such patients was associated with improvements in perceived social support. Dr. Lifson and colleagues are currently evaluating this intervention and its impact on perceived social support in a larger study involving 32 sites throughout southern Ethiopia.