HIV mothers' decision focus of nurse's study

by Stephen Forgacs
Staff writer

Women living with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) face difficult decisions regarding child bearing. And despite the risks and challenges, many are deciding to bear children.

To better understand the factors that influence these decisions, UBC School of Nursing doctoral candidate and registered nurse Amandah Lea has launched a research project.

"Women with HIV will continue to have children," Lea says. "And with no cure, this has implications for the future."

The chance of a woman who is HIV-positive bearing a child with the virus is about 25 to 30 per cent, Lea says. However, use of the drug AZT during pregnancy reduces the likelihood of transmission to eight per cent, she adds.

Still in the early stages of her research, Lea has interviewed 19 women with HIV about their decisions to have, or not have children, and six primary support people -- boyfriends, common-law partners or husbands -- identified by some of the women.

"Understanding the way multiple factors influence an HIV-positive woman's reproductive decisions will help create services and health policies to improve their and their families' quality of life," Lea says.

Lea will examine issues such as the influence social perceptions regarding HIV and child bearing, and family support, or lack of it, have on reproductive decision making.

The majority of Lea's initial participants have a history of substance abuse, and have annual income levels of under $20,000. Half received high school education, and the other half graduated from high school or have had some post-secondary education.

Lea, who is recruiting study participants with the assistance of doctors and HIV support workers, also intends to include women with higher income and education levels as well as women who do not have a history of substance abuse in the study.

Any woman with HIV interested in participating in the study who fits the previously listed criteria is encouraged to contact Lea at 222-1013. Participants will receive an honorarium for each completed interview.

From March 6-7, Lea and other health-care professionals will participate in the Women, Children, Youth HIV/AIDS conference in Vancouver. The conference is sponsored by UBC's Continuing Education in Health Sciences. Call 822-4965 for information.

Lea's research is supported by the Medical Research Council/National Health Research Development Program, B.C. Health Research Foundation, the Canadian Nurses' Foundation, Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing (USA) and the Canadian Nurses Foundation.