Experiences of initiating rapid antiretroviral therapy among people newly diagnosed with HIV in East London: a qualitative study

Dhairyawan, Rageshri; Milner, Adrienne; Thornhill, John P; Kwardem, Longret; Matin, Nashaba; Orkin, Chloe and Deane, Kevin (2023). Experiences of initiating rapid antiretroviral therapy among people newly diagnosed with HIV in East London: a qualitative study. Sexually Transmitted Infections, 99(7) pp. 455–460.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1136/sextrans-2022-055682


We aimed to explore the experiences of people who initiated rapid antiretroviral therapy (ART) within 7 days of HIV diagnosis, as part of routine care in London.

Using purposive sampling, 18 in-depth, semistructured interviews were conducted between December 2020 and September 2021 with people who started rapid ART at Barts Health NHS Trust. Participants aged 22–69 years included 15 cisgender men and three cisgender women. Five identified as heterosexual and 13 as gay and bisexual and other men who have sex with men. Ethnic identities: six White Non-UK, five White UK, three Black Caribbean, two South Asian and two East Asian. Interviews explored feelings about the new HIV diagnosis, attitudes to rapid ART including barriers to and facilitators of starting. Thematic analysis of transcribed interviews was undertaken.

Four themes were identified: (1) being offered rapid ART is acceptable; (2) it is a way of taking control of their health; (3) the need for information and support and (4) an individualised approach to care. Reasons for starting included getting well, staying well and reducing the likelihood of passing on HIV. Facilitators included being given comprehensive information about treatment and managing potential side-effects and a supportive clinical team. Support specified included a non-judgemental attitude, approachability, reassurance, encouragement and information about peer support. Most participants expressed they could not understand why people would not begin treatment, but suggested needing more time to decide and denial of diagnosis as possible barriers.

To our knowledge, this is the first qualitative study exploring the experiences of people initiating rapid ART in the UK. It was deemed acceptable to an ethnically diverse, predominantly male sample of people newly diagnosed with HIV. Future research should include strategies to recruit a more gender diverse sample and those who declined or stopped rapid ART.

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