Impact of using creative arts programming to support HIV treatment in adolescents and young adults in Eswatini

Academic Article


  • Background: In 2018, approximately 1.6 million adolescents (aged 10–19) were living with HIV worldwide, with the highest HIV prevalence found in Eswatini. Adolescents and young adults living with HIV are a vulnerable population due to unique psychosocial challenges that come with having a stigmatizing disease. This group struggles more than other age-groups with medication adherence and requires novel approaches to supporting treatment, including peer-group encouragement, and self-expression. Methods: We piloted a theater camp for a group of adolescents and young adults enrolled at our HIV clinic in Mbabane, Eswatini, to determine the impact of having an outlet for creative expression and peer support on treatment and feelings of stigma. Pre- and post-camp surveys were administered to the participants to assess perceived stigma and impact of the camp. The results were analyzed using a Wilcoxon-signed rank test. Results: Twenty individuals (ages 12–23) living with HIV participated in the camp concurrently with standard treatment. 25% showed a substantial decrease in viral load within six months of completing the camp (> 0.1 log10 change) while only 10% showed a substantial increase. Those who completed the survey felt the camp helped them with confidence, teamwork, and friendships. A comparison of pre- and post- surveys showed an overall decrease in personalized stigma. Quotes from participants reinforced these results. Conclusions: Adolescents and young adults living with HIV are an important population for further program development. Our study showed creative arts programming has beneficial psychosocial effects, aids in community building, and potentially enhances the effectiveness of medical treatment. Further programs and studies should continue to investigate creative arts as an avenue for self-expression and community building among vulnerable populations.
  • Published In

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Ness TE; Agrawal V; Guffey D; Small A; Simelane T; Dlamini S; Petrus J; Lukhele B
  • Volume

  • 18
  • Issue

  • 1