'You just prefer to die early!’: How socioecological context impedes treatment for people living with HIV in Iran

Vira Ameli*, Leila Taj, Jane Barlow, Lora Sabin, Franziska Meinck, Jessica Haberer, Minoo Mohraz

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: Despite the low prevalence of HIV and broad provision of antiretroviral therapy, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) remains the only region where new HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths are not declining. There is a dearth of evidence from MENA on antiretroviral therapy engagement. In this qualitative study, we sought to identify the ways in which successful treatment is hindered in Iran, which is home to 24% of HIV infections in MENA.

Methods: From August 2018 to January 2019, we used purposive sampling and conducted 12 individual interviews and 8 focus group discussions with 27 female and 31 male patients, in addition to 5 individual interviews with HIV care providers and 1 focus group discussion with 8 care providers. Social constructivism augmented with realist-informed thematic analysis was used to understand how the socioecological context triggers cognitive and affective mechanisms that disrupt antiretroviral therapy.

Results: The use of Thematic Network Analysis resulted in the identification of three key cognitive and affective mechanisms that appear to shape treatment experience and are triggered via HIV’s socioecological context and changing economic conditions in Iran: denial in response to societal negative perceptions of HIV; fear in response to societal lack of awareness regarding HIV and misinformation; and despair in response to HIV-related stigma and enacted discrimination, economic insecurity and social support.

Conclusions: To our knowledge, this is the first study within MENA to identify pathways through which successful treatment is hindered. It appears that lack of societal awareness regarding HIV is specific to low prevalence settings, such as MENA countries, where negative perceptions, stigma, discrimination and misinformation regarding HIV and its treatment produce denial, fear and despair, acting as mechanisms that disrupt antiretroviral therapy. The experience of despair, in response to changing economic conditions and social support, further impacts treatment experience.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere006088
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalBMJ Global Health
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 18 Nov 2021


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