Updated 27 September 2017

HIV patients die after being too afraid to speak to nurses

A 22-year-old man recently died after stopping his antiretroviral treatment because he mistakenly thought he had been given the wrong medication.


A simple question never asked, miscommunication, no communication or a patient’s fear of speaking to a busy nurse are all small issues that can end up becoming life-threatening disasters.

Some HIV positive people have been defaulting on their treatment, and some have even died because of small issues relating to poor education on basic treatment.

Two weeks later he died

Recently in the City of Mbombela a 22-year-old man died after stopping his treatment because he thought he had been given the wrong medication.

According to his sister Gloria Khoza, the man had not told anyone he was stopping his treatment.

“At first no one knew that he wasn’t taking his ART (antiretroviral therapy) until I found a few full bottles of the medication. When we tried to intervene, he just told us that the nurses had given him the wrong medication and he was not going to take it. By that time it was too late. Two weeks after we found out that he wasn’t taking his treatment, he died,” said Khoza, who is also on ARTs.

“Since taking ARTs I have defaulted twice over the years. I know my reason may be stupid to others, but it was a real fear for me at that time. Both times I was given my treatment in a bottle that was different to what I was used to. Even though I knew it was important for my health, I couldn’t open my mouth to ask the right questions because I was so afraid of the nurses,” Khoza said, explaining how she herself had gone through a similar experience to her brother.

Nurses often intimidating

Nurse Phumzile Msizi said while it was the responsibility of nurses to explain and educate patients on their ART treatment, it was also the responsibility of patients to ask for information and clarify things they are not certain about.

“I don’t understand why the blame is always put on nurses, because it’s not always our fault. Patients must learn to open up and ask the right questions that relate to their health,” Msizi said.

But patient Suzan Ndlovu said nurses were often intimidating in their attitudes, and patients were often unsure of how to ask for information or help.

“Sone nurses take their frustrations out on patients. When we ask questions they will say, ‘You patients always complain about small things.’ Imagine being told by a nurse that it’s not their fault that you didn’t go to school? I agree, some of us didn’t go to school. But we don’t need to be reminded. All we are asking is for nurses to do their work properly,” said Ndlovu.  – Health-e News.

Image credit: iStock


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HIV/Aids expert

Dr Sindisiwe van Zyl qualified at the University of Pretoria in 2005. She is a patients' rights activist and loves using social media to teach about HIV. She is in private practice in Johannesburg.

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