Never a right time to tell children that their mother has HIV, new report finds

By Sarah Slater

There is never a right time to tell children, even those who are adults, that their mother has HIV, a report has found.

The immediate concern upon diagnosis of Irish-based mothers interviewed for the report by Dublin City University on HIV was for their babies and children, rather than themselves.

Many mothers living with HIV minimise the significant personal impact of the news.

Assistant Professor at DCU's School of Nursing and Human Sciences Dr Denise Proudfoot who compiled the report believes that “women or mothers with HIV are often reluctant to come forward for testing due to a variety of issues.

“Few of the participants talked about personal responses following the diagnosis because their immediate worries were that they had infected their children with HIV demonstrating that their response to a HIV positive is strongly associated with maternal responsibilities.

They feel that there is never a right time to tell their children, even adult children that their mother has HIV as they feel it questions their motherly instincts.

“As a significant group of those living with HIV in Ireland it is important to highlight what life is like for them and it is important to note that many are healthy and lead normal lives.

“HIV is a treatable condition now once people are aware that they have it. A key message is to encourage women to have a HIV test if they feel they could have come in contact with HIV so that their health can be managed.”

More than 8,000 people have been diagnosed with HIV in Ireland since testing began more almost 40 years ago in the early 1980’s.

According to data released in 2017, 508 people in Ireland were newly diagnosed with HIV, the majority of which were gay men.

However, approximately a quarter of those were female, mostly aged under 45 and who may be mothers or pregnant when diagnosed.

The research for the report titled "Frozen in a Moment of Time: The Experiences of Mothers Being Diagnosed with HIV Infection" involved a diverse group of women who shared their individual experiences. In total, eleven women, five from Ireland, five from Africa and one from Europe were interviewed for the report.

The report's findings also recommended that healthcare professionals need to be aware of how mothers-to-be and mothers worry about the possibility of infecting their children despite the low likelihood of it happening due to HIV prevention interventions during pregnancy.

“For these mothers, personal needs were secondary to those of their children and this indicated that health care professionals needed to adopt a mother-centered approach when dealing with or supporting mothers living with HIV as there is potential that they can neglect their own health,” added Dr Proudfoot.

The variety and depth of testimony provides previously unheard of accounts of these HIV positive women with children as little is known about their lives.

"Upon diagnosis participants were very much “frozen in a moment of time” which they could not overcome until the HIV status of their children was known.”

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