Introduction: Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is often used within the sphere of chronic disease management. Exploring the beliefs and practices of CAM use among People Living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) could be vital, since some of these therapies may adversely affect the outcomes of the conventional HIV treatment.
Methods: A phenomenological methodology was adopted. In depth patient interviews were performed with Malaysian patients over the age of 18 diagnosed with HIV/AIDS using a semi structured topic guide. Prior to each interview both written and verbal consents were taken. Saturation was reached after the 13th interview, with no further newly emerging information. All interviews were audio-recorded and subjected to a thematic content analysis framework.
Results: Beliefs in the effectiveness of CAM, types of CAM and reasons for CAM use emerged from the data as themes. A majority of the participants had a strong faith in the effectiveness and safety of CAM due to their natural origin. Perceived immune boosting effects, devoid of any toxicities and strong cultural influences appeared to be vital driving forces towards CAM use. Remarkably, participants were generally of the view that CAM can always be used either with conventional HIV medicines or until one's CD4 cell counts drop significantly.
Conclusions: Despite the possible underlying adherence and therapeutic challenges towards taking ARTs; CAM use in contemporary HIV-care may provide a proactive means of engaging PLWHA, and generate self-care practises that promote positive health behaviours, including proper use of ARTs. Therefore, patient-healthcare provider communications are critical.