Date of Conferral





Public Health


Michael G. Schwab


Despite enormous research on the experience of living with HIV, many questions remain regarding self-disclosure of HIV status to sexual partners by people living with HIV (PLWHIV), which is essential to reducing further infection. In this study, a phenomenological approach captured the experience of self-disclosure among South Africans living with HIV in Louwsburg, South Africa. The health belief model served as a theoretical framework, and in-depth interviews were conducted with 12 PLWHIV (8 women, 4 men) who self-disclosed their HIV status to their sexual partners. Their experiences were explored, discovering their illness, motives for self-disclosure, feelings regarding disclosing, responses of their sexual partners, their emotional reaction, and about their medical care. The themes rose from interviews showed that (a) many PLWHIV are reluctant to self-disclose until they actively experienced health issues; (b) motives for disclosure include the wish to ensure fairness; support and to empower other PLWHIV to prevent further infection; (c) feelings of disclosure are primarily relief and liberation, even though risks remain, especially for families separated by labor migration laws; (d) the response of sexual partners to disclosure varies widely; some are motivated to get tested and use condoms, decline and respond only with anger, blame, even abandonment; and (e) after accessing medical care, most PLWHIV reported support and appearing less sick, which reduces social stigma. The women were more open, forthcoming, and transparent about disclosing than men participants. Findings will assist with the creation of future health education programs aimed at creating safe environments to disclose HIV status, which may reduce community risk of contracting the virus.