Successful adherence after multiple HIV treatment failures


  • Maithe Enriquez PhD RN ANP,

  • Nancy R. Lackey PhD RN,

  • Mary C. O'Connor MD,

  • David S. McKinsey MD

Maithe Enriquez,
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,
School of Nursing,
Chapel Hill,
E-mail: or


Background.  Non-adherence to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) medications often results in irreparable drug resistance and poor outcomes. Hence, care providers generally think that treatment of HIV disease should be delayed until a person is ‘ready’ to adhere. However, little research has focused on understanding the process that results in readiness for successful adherence.

Aim.  The aim of this phenomenological study was to describe and understand the experience and decision-making processes of people who became adherent to their HIV medication regimens after previously failing treatment because of non-adherence.

Method.  A Husserlian phenomenological approach was taken, and in-depth interviews were analysed using Giorgi's method of phenomenological description and analysis.

Findings.  Thirteen HIV-positive men and women who had previously failed two or more treatment regimens because of non-adherence were purposefully selected from two infectious diseases clinics in the Midwest region of the United States. They had achieved and sustained adherence to their HIV medications for 1 year or longer without formal intervention. All participants experienced a ‘trigger’ event preceding the process that led to the ability to incorporate lifestyle and health behaviour changes necessary for successful adherence. Factors associated with the process leading to adherence were: changing attitudes towards HIV medication, finding the right health care provider, creating the right support system, getting control of life and having goals.

Conclusions.  This study demonstrated that HIV-positive individuals who had been non-adherent and had been viewed as ‘difficult to treat’ nonetheless successfully adhered to treatment once they became ‘ready’. Findings from this study implicate that readiness may be a necessary component for successful adherence, particularly in HIV-positive individuals who have previously failed treatment. Understanding the relationship between the phenomenon of readiness and subsequent HIV treatment adherence has implications for clinical decision-making and for development of interventions that enhance adherence and prevent HIV drug resistance.