Scaling a waterfall: A meta-ethnography of adolescent progression through the stages of HIV care in sub-Saharan Africa


INTRODUCTION: Observational studies have shown considerable attrition among adolescents living with HIV across the “cascade” of HIV care in sub-Saharan Africa, leading to higher mortality rates compared to HIV-infected adults or children. We synthesized evidence from qualitative studies on factors that promote or undermine engagement with HIV services among adolescents living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa. METHODS: We systematically searched five databases for studies published between 2005 and 2016 that met pre-defined inclusion criteria. We used a meta-ethnographic approach to identify first, second and third order constructs from eligible studies, and applied a socio-ecological framework to situate our results across different levels of influence, and in relation to each stage of the HIV cascade. RESULTS AND DISCUSSION: We identified 3089 citations, of which 24 articles were eligible for inclusion. Of these, 17 were from Southern Africa while 11 were from Eastern Africa. 6 explored issues related to HIV testing, 11 explored treatment adherence, and 7 covered multiple stages of the cascade. Twelve third-order constructs emerged to explain adolescents’ engagement in HIV care. Stigma was the most salient factor impeding adolescents’ interactions with HIV care over the past decade. Self-efficacy to adapt to life with HIV and support from family or social networks were critical enablers supporting uptake and retention in HIV care and treatment programmes. Provision of adolescent-friendly services and health systems issues, such as the availability of efficient, confidential and comfortable services, were also reported to drive sustained care engagement. Individual-level factors, including past illness experiences, identifying mechanisms to manage pill-taking in social situations, financial (in)stability and the presence/absence of future aspirations also shaped adolescents HIV care engagement. CONCLUSIONS: Adolescents’ initial and ongoing use of HIV care was frequently undermined by individual-level issues; although family, community and health systems factors played important roles. Interventions should prioritise addressing psychosocial issues among adolescents to promote individual-level engagement with HIV care, and ultimately reduce mortality. Further research should explore issues relating to care linkage and ART initiation in different settings, particularly as “test and treat” policies are scaled up


Williams S, Renju J, Ghilardi L, Wringe A




  • Determinants of Health
    • Income
    • Education
    • Stigma/discrimination
  • Population(s)
    • Children or Youth (less than 18 years old)
    • General HIV+ population
  • Engagement and Care Cascade
    • Linkage/engagement in care
    • Retention in care
    • Treatment
  • Testing
    • Testing


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