Programming Connection

Sharing Together For Life  

Université du Québec à Montréal (UQÀM)
Quebec
2015

Quick Facts

Goal (immediate)

To give HIV-positive women the power to freely make educated decisions about disclosing their status

Goal (ultimate)

To improve the quality of life of women living with HIV by increasing their power to act and by fostering relationships among women

Population

People living with HIV, Women

Participants

HIV-positive women over the age of 18 who have been diagnosed at least 6 months before the start of the program and who are emotionally stable

Type of Program

Workshop

Setting

Community organization

Required Resources
  • Two qualified facilitators (at least one of whom is living with HIV)
  • A discreet and comfortable meeting place
  • Journals for each participant
  • An educational video
  • Various supplies
Scope and Duration

Nine weekly three-hour workshops

Date Started

2006

Region

Quebec

Recruitment

Community organizations advertise the workshops in their newsletters, brochures and awareness communications. Word of mouth is also a proven strategy.

Challenges
  • The theme may dissuade some women from participating since they may be under the impression that the program promotes disclosure.
  • It can be difficult to create a cohesive group if participants do not feel a sense of community with other HIV-positive women before joining the program.
  • It is not always easy to find participants, particularly in rural areas, who are over 18, were diagnosed more than six months before the start of the program and who feel comfortable discussing HIV in a group setting.
  • It is particularly difficult to recruit participants in rural areas where infection rates are lower and HIV-positive women are isolated and far from HIV-related services.
  • It takes a lot of time to implement the program, particularly to recruit and train facilitators and to prepare nine workshops.
  • Since the series of workshops are not offered on a regular basis throughout the year, facilitators may need a refresher course, which takes time and can be expensive.
Evaluation

Sharing Together for Life was developed in 2002 following a qualitative study to explore the life experience of women living with HIV in Montreal since effective HIV treatment became available.* This study highlighted the need of women living with HIV to be supported through the sensitive decision to disclose or not.

In 2006-2007, the program was implemented as a pilot project and reached 38 women living with HIV in the Montreal area. It showed promising results and the program was expanded and implemented at the provincial level in Quebec with the help of 15 groups. It reached 85 women living with HIV.

Results obtained during the province-wide implementation validate those obtained during the pilot phase and demonstrate, six months after the intervention, that the program helps foster a greater ability to take action in regard to disclosure as well as a greater feeling of personal achievement in managing disclosure or non-disclosure. The impact of the program was documented with questionnaires before and after the series of workshops, groups discussions with participants and facilitators and the coordinator’s notes.

Among women who have taken part in the program since the pilot phase, more than half were born abroad and the majority of them came from Haiti or Africa. On average, participants had known they were HIV-positive for nearly 10 years and most were on treatment. More than a third of them were in a relationship, and all of these women had disclosed their HIV-positive status to their partner. More than 75% of participants had children, and among this group, at least one of their children was aware of their positive status.

Nearly all women who were surveyed said they were keeping their HIV-positive status secret in some context. Among participants who had disclosed their positive status to at least one person, their spouse, an immediate family member (generally their mother or sister) or a friend were the people to whom they had most commonly made the disclosure.

Women who took part in the workshops have reported the following:

  • They recognize the importance of the support from other women in deciding to disclose or not.
  • They are able to make educated decisions freely about disclosing in different situations.
  • They are able to plan and apply strategies to disclose their status or keep it secret.

In general, it seems that the program has had a greater and more positive impact for women who have children, for women who have been living with HIV for a shorter period of time and for women with a higher level of education. However, there has been no difference in benefit on the basis of age, country of origin, marital status, annual income or treatment adherence.

* Trottier G, Fernet M, Lévy JJ, et al. Les expériences de vie des femmes séropositives depuis l’avènement des nouvelles thérapies contre le VIH/sida. Rapport de recherche présenté au Fonds québécois de recherche sur la société et la culture. Québec: Université Laval; 2005.25 p.