Blogging: A New Tool for Coping and Accessing Psycho-Social Support for People Living with HIV?

Blogging: A New Tool for Coping and Accessing Psycho-Social Support for People Living with HIV?

Cecilia Strand (Uppsala University, Sweden)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-866-8.ch007
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Upon learning about an HIV-positive status, the individual is often faced with immense psychological stress. Besides coming to terms with a life-threatening disease, fears of stigma and discrimination are often attributed as stressors. The purpose of this chapter is to explore blogging as a tool to cope with a lifelong and highly stigmatized disease such as HIV/AIDS. A literature review and content analysis of six HIV-positive individuals’ blogs indicate that blogging can be regarded as a tool for coping with HIV and potentially a form of self-administered therapy. Due to the ephemeral nature of blogs, the case blogs were revisited after 7 months to determine if they had been maintained. The fact that all six were still being updated regularly indicates that the bloggers found blogging about HIV/AIDS beneficial in one or several ways.
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With 33.4 million currently infected with HIV, and with approximately 7000 newly infected individuals every day (UNIADS, 2009), the virus has often been referred to as one of our time’s great public health challenges (European Commission, 2010; Lewis, 2005).

HIV is a retro-virus that targets the body’s immune system, and in particular its T-cells lymphocytes. As an HIV-infection progresses the number of CD4-positive T-lymphocytes decreases and, unless the infected individual has access to anti-retroviral treatment, he/she becomes increasingly vulnerable to a wide range of viral and bacterial infections, often referred to as opportunistic infections (Engel, 2006; Hoffman & Rockstroh, 2010). Without anti-retroviral therapy the individual dies after a variable period of time.

Despite nearly 30 years of research, there is still no vaccine (Hoffman & Rockstroh, 2010). Instead public health efforts have focused on two fronts: prevention of new infections, as well as, treatment and care of those already infected. Despite earlier disputes on disease control priorities, it is increasingly accepted that the earlier prevention vs. treatment dichotomy is not a constructive approach to a comprehensive HIV/AIDS strategy (D’Adesky, 2004; Barnett &Whiteside, 2006). Anti-retroviral treatment is not only life prolonging for the infected individual, but an essential component in motivating individuals to take part in voluntary counseling and to get tested for HIV in the first place. Moreover, prevention of infection will continue to be pivotal in future control strategies as anti-retroviral drugs are still relatively expensive despite recent reductions in prices. Furthermore, HIV with its high mutation rate is particularly well equipped to adapt to both new anti-retroviral treatment regimens and potential future vaccines (Engel, 2006).

Treatment options have improved significantly, in particularly in the developed world where HIV/AIDS is increasingly being regarded as a chronic disease that can be managed rather than a death sentence (Engel, 2006). Anti-retroviral treatment aims at suppressing the HIV-viral load in the body which prevents the virus from weakening the immune system (Hoffmann & Rockstroh, 2010). Anti-retroviral treatment needs to be taken consistently and without interruption to be effective (World Health Organization, 2003). In order to ensure that treatment options continue to save lives in both the developed and developing world, it is crucial to keep adherence rates high. Low adherence to treatment regimens results in HIV builds resistance and the drug eventually becomes useless (Hoffmann & Rockstroh, 2010; World Health Organization, 2003). An important factor for successful anti-retroviral treatment is the individual’s acceptance of the situation, as well as access social support (Simoni, Frick, & Huang, 2006; Cornet, 2008; Nachega, Mills, & Mauro, 2010).

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