There is limited understanding of how social dynamics impact pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) adherence among adolescent girls and young women (AGYW) in generalized HIV-epidemic settings. We examined experiences of oral PrEP use disclosure to various social groups with the goal of identifying supportive relationships that can be leveraged to promote adherence.
We used qualitative methods to explore experiences disclosing PrEP use and the perceived impact of disclosure on adherence among 22 South African AGYW (16–25 years) taking daily oral PrEP. Serial in-depth-interviews (IDIs) were conducted 1-, 3-, and 12-months post-PrEP initiation. Respondents also self-reported their disclosures separately for various social groups and adherence was assessed using intracellular tenofovir-diphosphate levels.
Qualitative respondents had a median age of 20.5 years and reported disclosing their PrEP use to friends (n = 36 total disclosures), partners, siblings, other family members (n = 24 disclosures each), and parents (n = 19 disclosures). IDI data revealed that parents and partners provided the most support to respondents and a lack of support from these groups was most often perceived as negatively affecting PrEP use. AGYW described difficulties explaining PrEP to their mothers, who believed PrEP was HIV treatment or would lead to HIV infection. Disclosure to household members was notably meaningful for AGYW (both positively and negatively). Respondents reported leveraging supportive relationships for pill reminders. For respondents who perceived a household member would be unsupportive, however, non-disclosure was less feasible and PrEP use was often stigmatized. To avoid stigma, several respondents hid or discontinued PrEP.
While supportive relationships may facilitate PrEP use, disclosure can also lead to stigma. Counselors should support AGYW in disclosing to key people in their social networks and provide AGYW with materials that lend credibility to explanations of PrEP. Community education is necessary to alleviate PrEP-related stigma and facilitate disclosure.