Various structural factors influenced early antiretroviral therapy initiation amongst HIV infected prisoners: a qualitative exploration in South Ethiopia

Terefe Gone Fuge, George Tsourtos, Emma R. Miller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Early initiation of antiretroviral therapy (ART) reduces the development of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), non-AIDS related comorbidities and mortality, and prevents transmission. However, the prevalence of delayed ART initiation amongst prisoners in sub-Saharan African countries is high and the contributing factors to this are relatively unknown.
Methods: Qualitative interviewing was employed to understand the prisoners’ lived world with regard to initiating ART and associated barriers and facilitators in the South Ethiopian prison system. We interviewed seven (five male and two female) inmates living with HIV (ILWH) and eleven stakeholders who had a role in human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) care provision for incarcerated people. A phenomenological approach was used to analyse the interview data in which meaning attributed to the lived experiences of the participants was abstracted.
Results: In this study, participants discussed both barriers to, and facilitators of, early ART initiation during incarceration. The barriers included a lack of access to voluntary counselling and testing (VCT) services, poor linkage to care due to insufficient health staff training, uncooperative prison security systems and loss of privacy regarding disclosure of HIV status. Insufficient health staff training and uncooperative prison security systems both contributed to a loss of patient privacy, ultimately resulting in treatment refusal. Although most participants described the importance of peer education and support for enhancing HIV testing and treatment programs amongst prisoners, there had been a decline in such interventions in the correctional facilities. Service providers suggested opportunities that a prison environment offers for identification and treatment of HIV infected individuals and implementation of peer education programs.
Conclusions: Our study identified crucial barriers to and facilitators of early ART initiation amongst prisoners, a key HIV priority population group. Interventions that address the barriers while strengthening the facilitators may enhance a greater utilisation of ART.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1463
Number of pages14
JournalBMC Public Health
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 28 Jul 2021


  • Antiretroviral therapy
  • Initiation
  • Prisoners
  • South Ethiopia
  • Qualitative interviewing


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