July 25, 2013
HIV-infected persons who have peer educators are more likely to adhere to their medical treatment plans, according to researcher Maithe Enriquez, associate professor at the University of Missouri Sinclair School of Nursing. Adhering to medication regimens allows HIV-infected individuals to live long, healthy lives, but previous studies indicated that only half get medical care or follow their treatment plans.
"Being 'peered' is different from being doctored, nursed or counseled," Enriquez said. "The peer educators in the intervention also have HIV, which gives them insider perspectives. Perhaps, the belief that only those living with HIV can truly understand what it's like to live with the disease contributes to the meaningful connections between the educators and the patients struggling to adhere to treatment."
Enriquez evaluated 15 peer educators' insights into their roles in patients' treatment progress. She found that peer educators felt they provided patients with more than just education about medical adherence; they also acted as role models, motivators, and advocates. Peer educators worked with the patients to recognize and overcome barriers that prevent them from taking medicines and going to medical appointments. The peers and patients set goals and develop strategies to help the patients defeat their challenges.
Enriquez believes peer-led interventions potentially can enhance HIV care and HIV-related health outcomes. "The encouraging thing about HIV care is that patients can remain healthy if they are engaged in their care, and their viral loads decrease, which makes them less likely to spread the virus to others," Enriquez said. "Adherence to care and engagement in care go hand in hand. Having HIV is not a death sentence if patients follow their treatment plans."