Who’s talking? Communication between health providers and HIV-infected adults related to herbal medicine for AIDS treatment in western Uganda
Communication between patients and physicians about herbal medicine is valuable, enabling physicians to address issues of potential herb-drug interactions and ensuring appropriate medical care. As seemingly harmless herbal remedies may have detrimental interactions with various HIV antiretroviral drugs, the importance of communication is intensified, but often stifled around the use of herbal medicine in the treatment of HIV/AIDS. In western Uganda, 137 HIV-infected adults attending conventional HIV/AIDS treatment programmes (67 of whom were receiving antiretroviral therapy) shared their experiences and perceptions about traditional herbal medicine and related patient-physician communication issues through interviews and focus group discussions. Although close to 64% of respondents reported using herbal medicine after being diagnosed with HIV, only 16% of these respondents had informed their conventional medical practitioners about using these herbs. Furthermore, only 13% of antiretroviral therapy recipients had inquired about concurrent herb-antiretroviral drug use with their HIV/AIDS treatment providers, largely because they perceived a low acceptance and support for herbal medicine by conventional medical practitioners. Importantly however, almost 68% of HIV-infected adults indicated they would be willing to discuss herbal medicine use if directly asked by a conventional medical practitioner, and the overwhelming majority (91%) said they were amenable to following physician advice about herbal medicine. As such, improved patient-physician communication about herbal medicine is needed, and we recommend that herbal medicine histories be completed when patient histories are taken. Also, HIV/AIDS treatment programmes should be encouraged to develop specific patient-physician communication standards and best practice guidelines to ensure that patients can make informed decisions about herb and pharmaceutical drug co-therapy based on known risks, particularly in the case of AIDS patients receiving antiretroviral therapy. Communication about herbal medicine usage should be viewed as a timely and cost-effective component of antiretroviral therapy programmes, one which may contribute to the overall success of AIDS treatment in Africa.