"She Just Told Me Not To Cry": A Qualitative Study of Experiences of HIV Testing and Counseling (HTC) Among Pregnant Women Living With HIV in Tanzania

Martha Oshosen 1 2 , Brandon A Knettel 3 4 , Elizabeth Knippler 5 6 , Michael Relf 5 7 , Blandina T Mmbaga 1 5 8 , Melissa H Watt 5 9
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HIV testing and counseling (HTC) in antenatal care is extremely effective at identifying women living with HIV and linking them to HIV care. However, retention is suboptimal in this population. We completed qualitative interviews with 24 pregnant women living with HIV in Tanzania to explore perceptions of HTC. Participants described intense shock and distress upon testing positive, including concerns about HIV stigma and disclosure; however, these concerns were rarely discussed in HTC. Nurses were generally kind, but relied on educational content and brief reassurances, leaving some participants feeling unsupported and unprepared to start HIV treatment. Several participants described gaps in HIV knowledge, including the purpose of antiretroviral therapy and the importance of medication adherence. Targeted nurse training related to HIV disclosure, stigma, and counseling skills may help nurses to more effectively communicate the importance of care engagement to prevent HIV transmission and support the long-term health of mother and child.