Help-Seeking Behaviours of Black Africans and African-Caribbean People to Diagnose HIV and AIDS
Ajuo, Concilia Nem
With the advent of Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy (HAART), people with the human immune deficiency virus (HIV) infection are increasingly enjoying longer and relatively healthy lives, particularly in developed countries. However, black Africans and African-Caribbean people in the United Kingdom and other developed countries are not yet enjoying the full benefits of HAART, essentially as a result of delayed diagnosis. Delayed diagnosis, in addition to affecting the health of infected individuals, also creates a community reservoir for the spread of the infection; thereby hampering prevention and control strategies by international and NHS guidelines. The delayed diagnosis may be grounded in individual, societal and health service factors that guide help-seeking behaviours of black African and African-Caribbean populations. This study set out to investigate the help-seeking behaviours to diagnose HIV and AIDS among UK based black African and African-Caribbean people, and to investigate the dynamics in those behaviours by place of origin (Africa vs. Caribbean) and by gender. A qualitative methodological approach involving semi-structured interviews was used to explore help-seeking behaviours to diagnose HIV and AIDS among black Africans and African-Caribbean populations in the UK and compared by gender. Thirty (30) purposively selected individuals from patients attending two sexual health clinics in the city of London were interviewed. These included 16 black Africans and 14 African-Caribbean people, and 16 men and 14 women. The symbolic interactionist perspective, and the concepts of broken narratives/silences, biographical disruption and biographical abruption guided the study and interpretation of findings. One main theme ‘Africanness’ and two sub-themes (“African way” and “African thing”) emerged from the findings. The “African way” embodies the risk factors involved in contracting or transmitting HIV and the “African thing” represents the HIV status itself. This is a cultural construction of HIV and AIDS within the acceptable context of participants which helped them to talk about HIV and AIDS without addressing it by the biomedical idiom. The notion of ‘Africanness’ provided a ‘marker’ for African identity. The “African thing” represented a new landscape for naming HIV without necessarily calling it by name and provided a comfortable platform for participants to seek help. The “African way” described the risk behaviours by participants that resulted in the “African thing”. Three sociological concepts; ‘broken narratives or silences, biographical disruption and biographical abruption were key issues in HIV and AIDS diagnosis at a late stage and have formed the basis for the development of a model of help-seeking for diagnosis by participants. Apparently, the main determinants of help-seeking for diagnosis of HIV and AIDS are dependent on cultural factors. Stigma is reinforced by the national health care system practices as well as health professionals themselves. This potentially increases the reluctance among black African and African-Caribbean populations to voluntarily test for HIV. An HIV diagnosis is seemingly a challenging experience because of the impending uncertainties associated with it. Seeking help for diagnosis may even be more difficult because of the anticipated and unpleasant experiences along the path to diagnosis. This may guide the individual to consider other alternatives outside the biomedical pathway, potentially; the biomedical path becomes the least likely choice, especially with black African and African-Caribbean populations. An insufficient cultural understanding is likely to result in inadequate recognition of alternative medical practices, insufficient attention to alternatives to biomedical health systems and potential distortion of the meaning of health messages linking them to practice.
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