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1.  HIV, Gender, Race, Sexual Orientation, and Sex Work: A Qualitative Study of Intersectional Stigma Experienced by HIV-Positive Women in Ontario, Canada 
PLoS Medicine  2011;8(11):e1001124.
Mona Loutfy and colleagues used focus groups to examine experiences of stigma and coping strategies among HIV-positive women in Ontario, Canada.
HIV infection rates are increasing among marginalized women in Ontario, Canada. HIV-related stigma, a principal factor contributing to the global HIV epidemic, interacts with structural inequities such as racism, sexism, and homophobia. The study objective was to explore experiences of stigma and coping strategies among HIV-positive women in Ontario, Canada.
Methods and Findings
We conducted a community-based qualitative investigation using focus groups to understand experiences of stigma and discrimination and coping methods among HIV-positive women from marginalized communities. We conducted 15 focus groups with HIV-positive women in five cities across Ontario, Canada. Data were analyzed using thematic analysis to enhance understanding of the lived experiences of diverse HIV-positive women. Focus group participants (n = 104; mean age = 38 years; 69% ethnic minority; 23% lesbian/bisexual; 22% transgender) described stigma/discrimination and coping across micro (intra/interpersonal), meso (social/community), and macro (organizational/political) realms. Participants across focus groups attributed experiences of stigma and discrimination to: HIV-related stigma, sexism and gender discrimination, racism, homophobia and transphobia, and involvement in sex work. Coping strategies included resilience (micro), social networks and support groups (meso), and challenging stigma (macro).
HIV-positive women described interdependent and mutually constitutive relationships between marginalized social identities and inequities such as HIV-related stigma, sexism, racism, and homo/transphobia. These overlapping, multilevel forms of stigma and discrimination are representative of an intersectional model of stigma and discrimination. The present findings also suggest that micro, meso, and macro level factors simultaneously present barriers to health and well being—as well as opportunities for coping—in HIV-positive women's lives. Understanding the deleterious effects of stigma and discrimination on HIV risk, mental health, and access to care among HIV-positive women can inform health care provision, stigma reduction interventions, and public health policy.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
HIV-related stigma and discrimination—prejudice, negative attitudes, abuse, and maltreatment directed at people living with HIV—is a major factor contributing to the global HIV epidemic. HIV-related stigma, which devalues and stereotypes people living with HIV, increases vulnerability to HIV infection by reducing access to HIV prevention, testing, treatment, and support. At the personal (micro) level, HIV-related stigma can make it hard for people to take tests to determine their HIV status or to tell other people that they are HIV positive. At the social/community (meso) level, it can mean that HIV-positive people are ostracized from their communities. At the organizational/political (macro) level, it can mean that health-care workers treat HIV-positive people differently and that governments are deterred from taking fast, effective action against the HIV epidemic. In addition, HIV-related stigma is negatively associated with well-being among people living with HIV. Thus, among HIV-positive people, those who have experienced HIV-related stigma have higher levels of mental and physical illness.
Why Was This Study Done?
Racism (oppression and inequity founded on ethno-racial differences), sexism and gender discrimination (oppression and inequity based on gender bias in attitudes), and homophobia and transphobia (discrimination, fear, hostility, and violence towards nonheterosexual and transgender people, respectively) can also affect access to HIV services. However, little is known about how these different forms of stigma and discrimination interact (intersect). A better understanding of the effect of intersecting stigmas on people living with HIV could help in the development of stigma reduction interventions and HIV prevention, treatment and care programs, and could help to control global HIV infection rates. In this qualitative study (an analysis of people's attitudes and experiences rather than numerical data), the researchers investigate the intersection of HIV-related stigma, racism, sexism and gender discrimination, homophobia and transphobia among marginalized HIV-positive women in Ontario, Canada. As elsewhere in the world, HIV infection rates are increasing among women in Canada. Nearly 25% of people living with HIV in Canada are women and about a quarter of all new infections are in women. Moreover, there is a disproportionately high infection rate among marginalized women in Canada such as sex workers and lesbian, bisexual, and queer women.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers held 15 focus groups with 104 marginalized HIV-positive women who were recruited by word-of-mouth and through flyers circulated in community agencies serving women of diverse ethno-cultural origins. Each focus group explored topics that included challenges in daily life, medical issues and needs, and issues that were silenced within the participants' communities. The researchers analyzed the data from these focus groups using thematic analysis, an approach that identifies, analyzes, and reports themes in qualitative data. They found that women living with HIV in Ontario experienced multiple types of stigma at different levels. So, for example, women experienced HIV-related stigma at the micro (“If you're HIV-positive, you feel shameful”), meso (“The thing I hate most for people that test positive for HIV is that society ostracizes them”), and macro (“A lot of women are not getting employed because they have to disclose their status”) levels. The women also attributed their experiences of stigma and discrimination to sexism and gender discrimination, racism, homophobia and transphobia, and involvement in sex work at all three levels and described coping strategies at the micro (resilience; “I always live with hope”), meso (participation in social networks), and macro (challenging stigma) levels.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that marginalized HIV-positive women living in Ontario experience overlapping forms of stigma and discrimination and that these forms of stigma operate over micro, meso, and macro levels, as do the coping strategies adopted by the women. Together, these results support an intersectional model of stigma and discrimination that should help to inform discussions about the complexity of stigma and coping strategies. However, because only a small sample of nonrandomly selected women was involved in this study, these findings need to be confirmed in other groups of HIV-positive women. If confirmed, the complex system of interplay of different forms of stigma revealed here should help to inform health-care provision, stigma reduction interventions, and public-health policy, and could, ultimately, help to bring the global HIV epidemic under control.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
Information is available from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases on HIV infection and AIDS
NAM/aidsmap basic information about HIV/AIDS, and summaries of recent research findings on HIV care and treatment; its publication HIV and stigma deals with HIV-related stigma in the UK
Information is available from Avert, an international AIDS charity on many aspects of HIV/AIDS, including information on women, HIV, and AIDS, on HIV and AIDS stigma and discrimination, and on HIV/AIDS statistics for Canada (in English and Spanish)
The People Living with Stigma Index to address stigma relating to HIV and advocate on key barriers and issues perpetuating stigma; it has recently published Piecing it together for women and girls, the gender dimensions of HIV-related stigma; its website will soon include a selection of individual stories about HIV-related stigma
Patient stories about living with HIV/AIDS are available through Avert and through the charity website Healthtalkonline
PMCID: PMC3222645  PMID: 22131907
2.  Health equity in the New Zealand health care system: a national survey 
In all countries people experience different social circumstances that result in avoidable differences in health. In New Zealand, Māori, Pacific peoples, and those with lower socioeconomic status experience higher levels of chronic illness, which is the leading cause of mortality, morbidity and inequitable health outcomes. Whilst the health system can enable a fairer distribution of good health, limited national data is available to measure health equity. Therefore, we sought to find out whether health services in New Zealand were equitable by measuring the level of development of components of chronic care management systems across district health boards. Variation in provision by geography, condition or ethnicity can be interpreted as inequitable.
A national survey of district health boards (DHBs) was undertaken on macro approaches to chronic condition management with detail on cardiovascular disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, congestive heart failure, stroke and diabetes. Additional data from expert informant interviews on program reach and the cultural needs of Māori and Pacific peoples was sought. Survey data were analyzed on dimensions of health equity relevant to strategic planning and program delivery. Results are presented as descriptive statistics and free text. Interviews were transcribed and NVivo 8 software supported a general inductive approach to identify common themes.
Survey responses were received from the majority of DHBs (15/21), some PHOs (21/84) and 31 expert informants. Measuring, monitoring and targeting equity is not systematically undertaken. The Health Equity Assessment Tool is used in strategic planning but not in decisions about implementing or monitoring disease programs. Variable implementation of evidence-based practices in disease management and multiple funding streams made program implementation difficult. Equity for Māori is embedded in policy, this is not so for other ethnic groups or by geography. Populations that conventional practitioners find hard to reach, despite recognized needs, are often underserved. Nurses and community health workers carried a disproportionate burden of care. Cultural and diversity training is not a condition of employment.
There is a struggle to put equity principles into practice, indicating will without enactment. Equity is not addressed systematically below strategic levels and equity does not shape funding decisions, program development, implementation and monitoring. Equity is not incentivized although examples of exceptional practice, driven by individuals, are evident across New Zealand.
PMCID: PMC3216847  PMID: 22014211
health equity; Māori; cultural competency; health care system; chronic conditions; cardiovascular disease; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; congestive heart failure; stroke; diabetes
3.  Advocacy for Health Equity: A Synthesis Review 
The Milbank Quarterly  2015;93(2):392-437.
Health inequalities are systematic differences in health among social groups that are caused by unequal exposure to—and distributions of—the social determinants of health (SDH). They are persistent between and within countries despite action to reduce them. Advocacy is a means of promoting policies that improve health equity, but the literature on how to do so effectively is dispersed. The aim of this review is to synthesize the evidence in the academic and gray literature and to provide a body of knowledge for advocates to draw on to inform their efforts.
This article is a systematic review of the academic literature and a fixed-length systematic search of the gray literature. After applying our inclusion criteria, we analyzed our findings according to our predefined dimensions of advocacy for health equity. Last, we synthesized our findings and made a critical appraisal of the literature.
The policy world is complex, and scientific evidence is unlikely to be conclusive in making decisions. Timely qualitative, interdisciplinary, and mixed-methods research may be valuable in advocacy efforts. The potential impact of evidence can be increased by “packaging” it as part of knowledge transfer and translation. Increased contact between researchers and policymakers could improve the uptake of research in policy processes. Researchers can play a role in advocacy efforts, although health professionals and disadvantaged people, who have direct contact with or experience of hardship, can be particularly persuasive in advocacy efforts. Different types of advocacy messages can accompany evidence, but messages should be tailored to advocacy target. Several barriers hamper advocacy efforts. The most frequently cited in the academic literature are the current political and economic zeitgeist and related public opinion, which tend to blame disadvantaged people for their ill health, even though biomedical approaches to health and political short-termism also act as barriers. These barriers could be tackled through long-term actions to raise public awareness and understanding of the SDH and through training of health professionals in advocacy. Advocates need to take advantage of “windows of opportunity,” which open and close quickly, and demonstrate expertise and credibility.
This article brings together for the first time evidence from the academic and the gray literature and provides a building block for efforts to advocate for health equity. Evidence regarding many of the dimensions is scant, and additional research is merited, particularly concerning the applicability of findings outside the English-speaking world. Advocacy organizations have a central role in advocating for health equity, given the challenges bridging the worlds of civil society, research, and policy.
Policy Points:
• Many barriers hamper advocacy for health equity, including the contemporary economic zeitgeist, the biomedical health perspective, and difficulties cooperating across policy sectors on the issue.
• Effective advocacy should include persistent efforts to raise awareness and understanding of the social determinants of health. Education on the social determinants as part of medical training should be encouraged, including professional training within disadvantaged communities.
• Advocacy organizations have a central role in advocating for health equity given the challenges bridging theworlds of civil society, research, and policy.
PMCID: PMC4462882  PMID: 26044634
social determinants of health; consumer advocacy; evidence-based policy; vulnerable populations
4.  A cost-based equity weight for use in the economic evaluation of primary health care interventions: case study of the Australian Indigenous population 
Efficiency and equity are both important policy objectives in resource allocation. The discipline of health economics has traditionally focused on maximising efficiency, however addressing inequities in health also requires consideration. Methods to incorporate equity within economic evaluation techniques range from qualitative judgements to quantitative outcomes-based equity weights. Yet, due to definitional uncertainties and other inherent limitations, no method has been universally adopted to date. This paper proposes an alternative cost-based equity weight for use in the economic evaluation of interventions delivered from primary health care services.
Equity is defined in terms of 'access' to health services, with the vertical equity objective to achieve 'equitable access for unequal need'. Using the Australian Indigenous population as an illustrative case study, the magnitude of the equity weight is constructed using the ratio of the costs of providing specific interventions via Indigenous primary health care services compared with the costs of the same interventions delivered via mainstream services. Applying this weight to the costs of subsequent interventions deflates the costs of provision via Indigenous health services, and thus makes comparisons with mainstream more equitable when applied during economic evaluation.
Based on achieving 'equitable access', existing measures of health inequity are suitable for establishing 'need', however the magnitude of health inequity is not necessarily proportional to the magnitude of resources required to redress it. Rather, equitable access may be better measured using appropriate methods of health service delivery for the target group. 'Equity of access' also suggests a focus on the processes of providing equitable health care rather than on outcomes, and therefore supports application of equity weights to the cost side rather than the outcomes side of the economic equation.
Cost-based weights have the potential to provide a pragmatic method of equity weight construction which is both understandable to policy makers and sensitive to the needs of target groups. It could improve the evidence base for resource allocation decisions, and be generalised to other disadvantaged groups who share similar concepts of equity. Development of this decision-making tool represents a potentially important avenue for further health economics research.
PMCID: PMC2768712  PMID: 19807930
5.  Uncovering Treatment Burden as a Key Concept for Stroke Care: A Systematic Review of Qualitative Research 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(6):e1001473.
In a systematic review of qualitative research, Katie Gallacher and colleagues examine the evidence related to treatment burden after stroke from the patient perspective.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Patients with chronic disease may experience complicated management plans requiring significant personal investment. This has been termed ‘treatment burden’ and has been associated with unfavourable outcomes. The aim of this systematic review is to examine the qualitative literature on treatment burden in stroke from the patient perspective.
Methods and Findings
The search strategy centred on: stroke, treatment burden, patient experience, and qualitative methods. We searched: Scopus, CINAHL, Embase, Medline, and PsycINFO. We tracked references, footnotes, and citations. Restrictions included: English language, date of publication January 2000 until February 2013. Two reviewers independently carried out the following: paper screening, data extraction, and data analysis. Data were analysed using framework synthesis, as informed by Normalization Process Theory. Sixty-nine papers were included. Treatment burden includes: (1) making sense of stroke management and planning care, (2) interacting with others, (3) enacting management strategies, and (4) reflecting on management. Health care is fragmented, with poor communication between patient and health care providers. Patients report inadequate information provision. Inpatient care is unsatisfactory, with a perceived lack of empathy from professionals and a shortage of stimulating activities on the ward. Discharge services are poorly coordinated, and accessing health and social care in the community is difficult. The study has potential limitations because it was restricted to studies published in English only and data from low-income countries were scarce.
Stroke management is extremely demanding for patients, and treatment burden is influenced by micro and macro organisation of health services. Knowledge deficits mean patients are ill equipped to organise their care and develop coping strategies, making adherence less likely. There is a need to transform the approach to care provision so that services are configured to prioritise patient needs rather than those of health care systems.
Systematic Review Registration
International Prospective Register of Systematic Reviews CRD42011001123
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Every year, 15 million people have a stroke. About 5 million of these people die within a few days, and another 5 million are left disabled. Stroke occurs when the blood supply of the brain is suddenly interrupted by a blood vessel in the brain being blocked by a blood clot (ischemic stroke) or bursting (hemorrhagic stroke). Deprived of the oxygen normally carried to them by the blood, the brain cells near the blockage die. The symptoms of stroke depend on which part of the brain is damaged but include sudden weakness or paralysis along one side of the body, vision loss in one or both eyes, and confusion or trouble speaking or understanding speech. Anyone experiencing these symptoms should seek immediate medical attention because prompt treatment can limit the damage to the brain. In the longer term, post-stroke rehabilitation can help individuals overcome the physical disabilities caused by stroke, and drugs that thin the blood, reduce blood pressure and reduce cholesterol (major risk factors for stroke) alongside behavioral counseling can reduce the risk of a second stroke.
Why Was This Study Done?
Treatment for, and rehabilitation from, stroke is a lengthy process that requires considerable personal investment from the patient. The term “treatment burden” describes the self-care practices that patients with stroke and other chronic diseases must perform to follow the complicated management strategies that have been developed for these conditions. Unfortunately, treatment burden can overwhelm patients. They may be unable to cope with the multiple demands placed on them by health-care providers and systems for their self-care, a situation that leads to poor adherence to therapies and poor outcomes. For example, patients may find it hard to complete all the exercises designed to help them regain full movement of their limbs after a stroke. Treatment burden has been poorly examined in relation to stroke. Here, the researchers identify and describe the treatment burden in stroke by undertaking a systematic review (a study that uses predefined criteria to identify all the literature on a given topic) of qualitative studies on the patient experience of stroke management. Qualitative studies collect non-quantitative data so, for example, a qualitative study on stroke treatment might ask people how the treatment made them feel whereas a quantitative study might compare clinical outcomes between those receiving and not receiving the treatment.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified 69 qualitative studies dealing with the experiences of stroke management of adult patients and analyzed the data in these papers using framework synthesis—an approach that divides data into thematic categories. Specifically, the researchers used a coding framework informed by normalization process theory, a sociological theory of the implementation, embedding and integration of tasks and practices; embedding is the process of making tasks and practices a routine part of everyday life and integration refers to sustaining these embedded practices. The researchers identified four main areas of treatment burden for stroke: making sense of stroke management and planning care; interacting with others, including health care professionals, family and other patients with stroke; enacting management strategies (including enduring institutional admissions, managing stroke in the community, reintegrating into society and adjusting to life after stroke); and reflecting on management to make decisions about self-care. Moreover, they identified problems in all these areas, including inadequate provision of information, poor communication with health-care providers, and unsatisfactory inpatient care.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that stroke management is extremely demanding for patients and is influenced by both the micro and macro organization of health services. At the micro organizational level, fragmented care and poor communication between patients and clinicians and between health-care providers can mean patients are ill equipped to organize their care and develop coping strategies, which makes adherence to management strategies less likely. At the macro organizational level, it can be hard for patients to obtain the practical and financial help they need to manage their stroke in the community. Overall, these findings suggest that care provision for stroke needs to be transformed so that the needs of patients rather than the needs of health-care systems are prioritized. Further work is required, however, to understand how the patient experience of treatment burden is affected by the clinical characteristics of stroke, by disability level, and by other co-existing diseases. By undertaking such work, it should be possible to generate a patient-reported outcome measure of treatment burden that, if used by policy makers and health-care providers, has the potential to improve the quality of stroke care.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
The US National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke provides information about all aspects of stroke (in English and Spanish); its Know Stroke site provides educational materials about stroke prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation including personal stories (in English and Spanish); the US National Institutes of Health SeniorHealth website has additional information about stroke
The Internet Stroke Center provides detailed information about stroke for patients, families, and health professionals (in English and Spanish)
The UK National Health Service Choices website also provides information about stroke for patients and their families, including personal stories
MedlinePlus has links to additional resources about stroke (in English and Spanish)
The UK not-for-profit website Healthtalkonline provides personal stories about stroke
Wikipedia provides information on the burden of treatment and on the normalization process theory (note: Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
PMCID: PMC3692487  PMID: 23824703
6.  The expressed needs of people with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis: A systematic review 
BMC Public Health  2009;9:458.
We aimed to review systematically the needs for support in managing illness and maintaining social inclusion expressed by people with chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME)
We carried out a systematic review of primary research and personal ('own') stories expressing the needs of people with CFS/ME. Structured searches were carried out on Medline, AMED, CINAHL, EMBASE, ASSIA, CENTRAL, and other health, social and legal databases from inception to November 2007. Study inclusion, data extraction and risk of bias were assessed independently in duplicate. Expressed needs were tabulated and a conceptual framework developed through an iterative process.
Thirty two quantitative and qualitative studies, including the views of over 2500 people with CFS/ME with mainly moderate or severe illness severity, met the inclusion criteria. The following major support needs emerged: 1) The need to make sense of symptoms and gain diagnosis, 2) for respect and empathy from service providers, 3) for positive attitudes and support from family and friends, 4) for information on CFS/ME, 5) to adjust views and priorities, 6) to develop strategies to manage impairments and activity limitations, and 7) to develop strategies to maintain/regain social participation.
Although the studies were heterogeneous, there was consistent evidence that substantial support is needed to rebuild lives. Gaining support depends - most importantly - on the ability of providers of health and social care, colleagues, friends and relatives, and those providing educational and leisure services, to understand and respond to those needs.
PMCID: PMC2799412  PMID: 20003363
7.  Psychosocial Factors That Shape Patient and Carer Experiences of Dementia Diagnosis and Treatment: A Systematic Review of Qualitative Studies 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(10):e1001331.
A systematic review of qualitative studies conducted by Frances Bunn and colleagues identifies and describes the experiences of patients and caregivers on receiving and adapting to a diagnosis of dementia.
Early diagnosis and intervention for people with dementia is increasingly considered a priority, but practitioners are concerned with the effects of earlier diagnosis and interventions on patients and caregivers. This systematic review evaluates the qualitative evidence about how people accommodate and adapt to the diagnosis of dementia and its immediate consequences, to guide practice.
Methods and Findings
We systematically reviewed qualitative studies exploring experiences of community-dwelling individuals with dementia, and their carers, around diagnosis and the transition to becoming a person with dementia. We searched PubMed, PsychINFO, Embase, CINAHL, and the British Nursing Index (all searched in May 2010 with no date restrictions; PubMed search updated in February 2012), checked reference lists, and undertook citation searches in PubMed and Google Scholar (ongoing to September 2011). We used thematic synthesis to identify key themes, commonalities, barriers to earlier diagnosis, and support identified as helpful. We identified 126 papers reporting 102 studies including a total of 3,095 participants. Three overarching themes emerged from our analysis: (1) pathways through diagnosis, including its impact on identity, roles, and relationships; (2) resolving conflicts to accommodate a diagnosis, including the acceptability of support, focusing on the present or the future, and the use or avoidance of knowledge; and (3) strategies and support to minimise the impact of dementia. Consistent barriers to diagnosis include stigma, normalisation of symptoms, and lack of knowledge. Studies report a lack of specialist support particularly post-diagnosis.
There is an extensive body of qualitative literature on the experiences of community-dwelling individuals with dementia on receiving and adapting to a diagnosis of dementia. We present a thematic analysis that could be useful to professionals working with people with dementia. We suggest that research emphasis should shift towards the development and evaluation of interventions, particularly those providing support after diagnosis.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary.
Editors' Summary
Dementia is a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer disease is the most common type of dementia. People with dementia usually have problems with two or more cognitive functions—thinking, language, memory, understanding, and judgment. Dementia is rare before the age of 65, but about a quarter of people over 85 have dementia. Because more people live longer these days, the number of patients with dementia is increasing. It is estimated that today between 40 and 50 million people live with dementia worldwide. By 2050, this number is expected to triple.
One way to study what dementia means to patients and their carers (most often spouses or other family members) is through qualitative research. Qualitative research aims to develop an in-depth understanding of individuals' experiences and behavior, as well as the reasons for their feelings and actions. In qualitative studies, researchers interview patients, their families, and doctors. When the studies are published, they usually contain direct quotations from interviews as well as summaries by the scientists who designed the interviews and analyzed the responses.
Why Was This Study Done?
This study was done to better understand the experiences and attitudes of patients and their carers surrounding dementia diagnosis. It focused on patients who lived and were cared for within the community (as opposed to people living in senior care facilities or other institutions). Most cases of dementia are progressive, meaning symptoms get worse over time. Diagnosis often happens at an advanced stage of the disease, and some patients never receive a formal diagnosis. This could have many possible reasons, including unawareness or denial of symptoms by patients and people close to them. The study was also trying to understand barriers to early diagnosis and what type of support is useful for newly diagnosed patients and carers.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers conducted a systematic search for published qualitative research studies that reported on the experience, beliefs, feelings, and attitudes surrounding dementia diagnosis. They identified and reviewed 102 such studies. Among the quotations and summaries of the individual studies, they looked for prominent and recurring themes. They also compared and contrasted the respective experiences of patients and carers.
Overall, they found that the complexity and variety of responses to a diagnosis of dementia means that making the diagnosis and conveying it to patients and carers is challenging. Negative connotations associated with dementia, inconsistent symptoms, and not knowing enough about the signs and symptoms were commonly reported barriers to early dementia diagnosis. It was often the carer who initiated the search for help from a doctor, and among patients, willingness and readiness to receive a diagnosis varied. Being told one had dementia had a big impact on a patient's identity and often caused feelings of loss, anger, fear, and frustration. Spouses had to adjust to increasingly unequal relationships and the transition to a role as carer. The strain associated with this often caused health problems in the carers as well. On the other hand, studies examining the experience of couples often reported that they found ways to continue working together as a team.
Adjusting to a dementia diagnosis is a complex process. Initially, most patients and carers experienced conflicts, for example, between autonomy and safety, between recognizing the need for help but reluctance to accept it, or between living in the present and dealing with anxiety about and preparing for the future. As these were resolved and as the disease progressed, the attitudes of patients and carers towards dementia often became more balanced and accepting. Many patients and their families adopted strategies to cope with the impact of dementia on their lives in order to manage the disease and maintain some sort of normal life. These included practical strategies involving reminders, social strategies such as relying on family support, and emotional strategies such as using humor. At some point many patients and carers reported that they were able to adopt positive mindsets and incorporate dementia in their lives.
The studies also pointed to an urgent need for support from outside the family, both right after diagnosis and subsequently. General practitioners and family physicians have important roles in helping patients and carers to get access to information, social and psychological support, and community care. The need for information was reported to be ongoing and varied, and meeting it required a variety of sources and formats. Key needs for patients and carers mentioned in the studies include information on financial aids and entitlements early on, and continued access to supportive professionals and specialists.
What Do These Findings Mean?
Qualitative studies to date on how patients and carers respond to a diagnosis of dementia provide a fairly detailed picture of their experiences. The summary provided here should help professionals to understand better the challenges patients and carers face around the time of diagnosis as well as their immediate and evolving needs. The results also suggest that future research should focus on the development and evaluation of ways to meet those needs.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at
Wikipedia has pages on dementia and qualitative research (note that Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit)
Alzheimer Europe, an umbrella organization of 34 Alzheimer associations from 30 countries across Europe, has a page on the different approaches to research
The UK Department of Health has pages on dementia, including guidelines for carers of people with dementia
MedlinePlus also has information about dementia
PMCID: PMC3484131  PMID: 23118618
8.  Improving the use of research evidence in guideline development: 12. Incorporating considerations of equity 
The World Health Organization (WHO), like many other organisations around the world, has recognised the need to use more rigorous processes to ensure that health care recommendations are informed by the best available research evidence. This is the 12th of a series of 16 reviews that have been prepared as background for advice from the WHO Advisory Committee on Health Research to WHO on how to achieve this.
We reviewed the literature on incorporating considerations of equity in guidelines and recommendations.
We searched PubMed and three databases of methodological studies for existing systematic reviews and relevant methodological research. We did not conduct systematic reviews ourselves. Our conclusions are based on the available evidence, consideration of what WHO and other organisations are doing and logical arguments.
Key questions and answers
We found few directly relevant empirical methodological studies. These answers are based largely on logical arguments.
When and how should inequities be addressed in systematic reviews that are used as background documents for recommendations?
• The following question should routinely be considered: Are there plausible reasons for anticipating differential relative effects across disadvantaged and advantaged populations?
• If there are plausible reasons for anticipating differential effects, additional evidence should be included in a review to inform judgments about the likelihood of differential effects.
What questions about equity should routinely be addressed by those making recommendations on behalf of WHO?
• The following additional questions should routinely be considered:
• How likely is it that the results of available research are applicable to disadvantaged populations and settings?
• How likely are differences in baseline risk that would result in differential absolute effects across disadvantaged and advantaged populations?
• How likely is it that there are important differences in trade-offs between the expected benefits and harms across disadvantaged and advantaged populations?
• Are there different implications for disadvantaged and advantaged populations, or implications for addressing inequities?
What context specific information is needed to inform adaptation and decision making in a specific setting with regard to impacts on equity?
• Those making recommendations on behalf of WHO should routinely consider and offer advice about the importance of the following types of context specific data that might be needed to inform adaptation and decision making in a specific setting:
• Effect modifiers for disadvantaged populations and for the likelihood of differential effects
• Baseline risk in relationship to social and economic status
• Utilization and access to care in relationship to social and economic status
• Costs in relationship to social and economic status
• Ethics and laws that may impact on strategies for addressing inequities
• Availability of resources to address inequities
What implementation strategies are likely be needed to ensure that recommendations are implemented equitably?
• Organisational changes are likely to be important to address inequities. While it may only be possible to consider these in relationship to specific settings, consideration should be given to how best to provide support for identifying and addressing needs for organisational changes. In countries with pervasive inequities institutional, cultural and political changes may first be needed.
• Appropriate indicators of social and economic status should be used to monitor the effects of implementing recommendations on disadvantaged populations and on changes in social and economic status.
PMCID: PMC1702352  PMID: 17147814
9.  A Guide for Health Professionals Working with Aboriginal Peoples: Executive Summary 
to provide Canadian health professionals with a network of information and recommendations regarding Aboriginal health.
health professionals working with Aboriginal individuals and communities in the area of women’s health care.
improved health status of Aboriginal peoples in Canada.
Appropriateness and accessibility of women’s health services for Aboriginal peoples.
Improved communication and clinical skills of health professionals in the area of Aboriginal health.
Improved quality of relationship between health professionals and Aboriginal individuals and communities.
Improved quality of relationship between health care professionals and Aboriginal individuals and communities.
recommendations are based on expert opinion and a review of the literature. Published references were identified by a Medline search of all review articles, randomized clinical control trials, meta-analyses, and practice guidelines from 1966 to February 1999, using the MeSH headings “Indians, North American or Eskimos” and “Health.”* Subsequently published articles were brought to the attention of the authors in the process of writing and reviewing the document. Ancillary and unpublished references were recommended by members of the SOGC Aboriginal Health Issues Committee and the panel of expert reviewers.
information collected was reviewed by the principal author. The social, cultural, political, and historic context of Aboriginal peoples in Canada, systemic barriers regarding the publication of information by Aboriginal authors, the diversity of Aboriginal peoples in Canada, and the need for a culturally appropriate and balanced presentation were carefully considered in addition to more traditional scientific evaluation. The majority of information collected consisted of descriptive health and social information and such evaluation tools as the evidence guidelines of the Canadian Task Force on the Periodic Health exam were not appropriate.
Benefits, costs, and harms
utilization of the information and recommendations by Canadian health professionals will enhance understanding, communication, and clinical skills in the area of Aboriginal health. The resulting enhancement of collaborative relationships between Aboriginal peoples and their women’s health providers may contribute to health services that are more appropriate, effective, efficient, and accessible for Aboriginal peoples in Canada. The educational process may require an initial investment of time from the health professional.
Recommendations were grouped according to four themes: sociocultural context, health concerns, cross-cultural understanding, and Aboriginal health resources. Health professionals are encouraged to learn the appropriate names, demographics, and traditional geographic territories and language groups of the various Aboriginal groups in Canada. In addition, sensitivity to the impact of colonization and current socioeconomic challenges to the health status of Aboriginal peoples is warranted. Health services for Aboriginal peoples should take place as close to home as possible. Governmental obligations and policies regarding determination are recognized. With respect to health concerns, holistic definitions of health, based on Aboriginal perspectives, are put forward. Aboriginal peoples continue to experience a disproportionate burden of health problems. Health professionals are encouraged to become familiar with several key areas of morbidity and mortality. Relationships between Aboriginal peoples and their care providers need to be based on a foundation of mutual respect. Gaps and barriers in the current health care system for Aboriginal peoples are identified. Health professionals are encouraged to work with Aboriginal individuals and communities to address these gaps and barriers. Aboriginal peoples require culturally appropriate health care, including treatment in their own languages when possible. This may require interpreters or Aboriginal health advocates. Health professionals are encouraged to recognize the importance of family and community roles, and to respect traditional medicines and healers. Health professionals can develop their sensitivities towards Aboriginal peoples by participating in workshops, making use of educational resources, and by spending time with Aboriginal peoples in their communities. Aboriginal communities and health professionals are encouraged to support community-based, community-directed health services and health research for Aboriginal peoples. In addition, the education of more Aboriginal health professionals is essential. The need for a preventative approach to health programming in Aboriginal communities is stressed.
recommendations were reviewed and revised by the SOGC Aboriginal Health Issues Committee, a panel of expert reviewers, and the SOGC Council. In addition, this document was also reviewed and supported by the Assembly of First Nations, Canadian Institute of Child Health, Canadian Paediatric Society, College of Family Physicians of Canada, Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, Federation of Medical Women of Canada, Inuit Tapirisat of Canada, Metis National Council, National Indian and Inuit Community Health Representatives Organization, and Pauktuutit Inuit Women’s Association.
Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada.
PMCID: PMC3653835  PMID: 23682204 CAMSID: cams2752
10.  Exploration of transitional life events in individuals with Friedreich ataxia: Implications for genetic counseling 
Human development is a process of change, adaptation and growth. Throughout this process, transitional events mark important points in time when one's life course is significantly altered. This study captures transitional life events brought about or altered by Friedreich ataxia, a progressive chronic illness leading to disability, and the impact of these events on an affected individual's life course.
Forty-two adults with Friedreich ataxia (18-65y) were interviewed regarding their perceptions of transitional life events. Data from the interviews were coded and analyzed thematically using an iterative process.
Identified transitions were either a direct outcome of Friedreich ataxia, or a developmental event altered by having the condition. Specifically, an awareness of symptoms, fear of falling and changes in mobility status were the most salient themes from the experience of living with Friedreich ataxia. Developmental events primarily influenced by the condition were one's relationships and life's work.
Friedreich ataxia increased the complexity and magnitude of transitional events for study participants. Transitional events commonly represented significant loss and presented challenges to self-esteem and identity. Findings from this study help alert professionals of potentially challenging times in patients' lives, which are influenced by chronic illness or disability. Implications for developmental counseling approaches are suggested for genetic counseling.
Human development can be described in terms of key transitional events, or significant times of change. Transitional events initiate shifts in the meaning or direction of life and require the individual to develop skills or utilize coping strategies to adapt to a novel situation [1,2]. A successful transition has been defined as the development of a sense of mastery over the changed event [3].
Transitions can be influenced by a variety of factors including one's stage of development, such as graduation from high school, historical events, including war, and idiosyncratic factors, such as health status [4,5]. Of particular interest in the present study are transitional life events, brought about or altered by progressive chronic illness and disability, and the impact of these events on the lives of affected individuals.
It has been recognized that the clinical characteristics of a chronic illness or disability may alter the course and timing of many developmentally-related transitional events [6]. For example, conditions associated with a shortened lifespan may cause an individual to pursue a career with a shorter course of training [6]. Specific medical manifestations may also promote a lifestyle incongruent with developmental needs [6,7]. For example, an adolescent with a disability may have difficulty achieving autonomy because of his/her physical dependence on others.
In addition to the aforementioned effects of chronic illness and disability on developmentally-related transitional events, a growing body of literature has described disease-related transitional events: those changes that are a direct result of chronic illness and disability. Diagnosis has received attention as being a key disease-related transitional event [8,9]. Studies have also noted other disease transitions related to illness trajectory [10], as the clinical features of the disease may require the individual to make specific adaptations. Disease-related events have also been described in terms of accompanying psychological processes, such as one's awareness of differences brought about by illness [11].
While disease-related events are seemingly significant, the patient's perception of the events is varied. Some events may be perceived as positive experiences for the individual. For example, a diagnosis may end years of uncertainty. Some individuals may perceive these transitional events as insignificant, as they have accommodated to the continual change brought about by a chronic disease [12,13].
The aforementioned impact of disability and chronic illness on transitional events may create psychological stress. Developed by Lazarus and Folkman, the Transitional Model of Stress and Coping describes the process of adaptation to a health condition [14]. This model purports that individuals first appraise a stressor and then utilize a variety of coping strategies in order to meet the stressor's demands [14]. Thus, in the context of chronic illness, the ability of the individual to cope successfully with the stress of a health threat contributes to the process of overall adaptation to the condition.
The process of adaptation can be more complex when the chronic illness or disability is progressive. Each transition brought about or altered by the disability may also represent additional loss, including the loss of future plans, freedom in social life and the ability to participate in hobbies [15]. These losses may be accompanied by grief, uncertainty, and a continual need for adaptation [16,17].
Friedreich ataxia (FRDA) is one example of a progressive disorder, leading to adolescent and adult onset disability. To better understand patients' perceptions of key transitional events and the factors perceived to facilitate progression through these events, individuals with FRDA were interviewed.
FRDA is a rare, progressive, neurodegenerative disorder affecting approximately one in 30,000 people in the United States [18]. It equally affects both men and women. Individuals with FRDA experience progressive muscle weakness and loss of coordination in the arms and legs. For most patients, ataxia leads to motor incapacitation and full-time use of a wheelchair, commonly by the late teens or early twenties. Other complications such as vision and hearing impairment, dysarthria, scoliosis, diabetes mellitus and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy may occur [19,20]. Cardiomyopathy and respiratory difficulties often lead to premature death at an average age of 37 years [21]. Currently, there are no treatments or cures for FRDA. Little is known about the specific psychological or psychosocial effects of the condition.
FRDA is an autosomal recessive condition. The typical molecular basis of Friedreich ataxia is the expansion of a GAA trinucleotide repeat in both copies of the FXN gene [22]. Age of onset usually occurs in late childhood or early adolescence. However, the availability of genetic testing has identified affected individuals with an adult form of the condition. This late-onset form is thought to represent approximately 10-15% of the total FRDA population [23].
Health care providers of individuals with progressive, neurodegenerative disorders can help facilitate their patients' progression through transitional events. Data suggest that improvements should be made in the care of these individuals. Shaw et al. [24] found that individualized care that helps to prepare patients for transition is beneficial. Beisecker et al. [25] found that patients desire not only physical care from their providers, but also emotional and psychosocial support.
Genetic counselors have an important opportunity to help patients with neuromuscular disorders progress through transitional events, as several of these conditions have a genetic etiology. Genetic counselors in pediatric and adult settings often develop long-term relationships with patients, due to follow-up care. This extended relationship is becoming increasingly common as genetic counselors move into various medical sub-specialties, such as neurology, ophthalmology, oncology and cardiology.
The role of the genetic counselor in addressing the psychosocial needs of patients has been advocated, but rarely framed in the context of developmental events [26]. Data suggest that patients may not expect a genetic counselor to address psychosocial needs [27]. In a survey of genetic counseling patients, Wertz [28] found a majority of respondents understood genetic conditions to have a moderate to serious effect on family life and finances, while almost half perceived there to be an effect on the spouse, quality of life, and the relationship between home and work. However, these topics were reportedly not discussed within genetic counseling sessions [27,28]. Overall, there is limited information about the experiences of transitional life events in FRDA, as well as a lack of recommendations for genetic counselors and other health care providers to assist patients through these events.
Our study investigated perceptions of patients with Friedreich ataxia to 1) identify key transitional events and specific needs associated with events; 2) describe perception of factors to facilitate progression through the identified events; and 3) explore the actual or potential role of the health care provider in facilitating adaptation to the identified events. Data were used to make suggestions for developmental genetic counseling approaches in the context of ongoing care of clients with hereditary, progressive, neurodegenerative conditions.
PMCID: PMC2987979  PMID: 20979606
11.  Experiences with Policing among People Who Inject Drugs in Bangkok, Thailand: A Qualitative Study 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(12):e1001570.
Using thematic analysis, Kerr and colleagues document the experiences of policing among people who inject drugs in Bangkok and examine how interactions with police can affect drug-using behaviors and health care access.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Despite Thailand's commitment to treating people who use drugs as “patients” not “criminals,” Thai authorities continue to emphasize criminal law enforcement for drug control. In 2003, Thailand's drug war received international criticism due to extensive human rights violations. However, few studies have since investigated the impact of policing on drug-using populations. Therefore, we sought to examine experiences with policing among people who inject drugs (PWID) in Bangkok, Thailand, between 2008 and 2012.
Methods and Findings
Between July 2011 and June 2012, semi-structured, in-depth interviews were conducted with 42 community-recruited PWID participating in the Mitsampan Community Research Project in Bangkok. Interviews explored PWID's encounters with police during the past three years. Audio-recorded interviews were transcribed verbatim, and a thematic analysis was conducted to document the character of PWID's experiences with police. Respondents indicated that policing activities had noticeably intensified since rapid urine toxicology screening became available to police. Respondents reported various forms of police misconduct, including false accusations, coercion of confessions, excessive use of force, and extortion of money. However, respondents were reluctant to report misconduct to the authorities in the face of social and structural barriers to seeking justice. Respondents' strategies to avoid police impeded access to health care and facilitated transitions towards the misuse of prescribed pharmaceuticals. The study's limitations relate to the transferability of the findings, including the potential biases associated with the small convenience sample.
This study suggests that policing in Bangkok has involved injustices, human rights abuses, and corruption, and policing practices in this setting appeared to have increased PWID's vulnerability to poor health through various pathways. Novel to this study are findings pertaining to the use of urine drug testing by police, which highlight the potential for widespread abuse of this emerging technology. These findings raise concern about ongoing policing practices in this setting.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
In many countries, the dominant strategy used to control illegal drugs such as heroin and methamphetamine is criminal law enforcement, a strategy that sometimes results in human rights abuses such as ill-treatment by police, extrajudicial killings, and arbitrary detention. Moreover, growing evidence suggests that aggressive policing of illicit drug use can have adverse public-health consequences. For example, the fear engendered by intensive policing may cause people who inject drugs (PWID) to avoid services such as needle exchanges, thereby contributing to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. One country with major epidemics of illicit drug use and of HIV/AIDS among PWID is Thailand. Although Thailand reclassified drug users as “patients” instead of “criminals” in 2002, possession and consumption of illicit drugs remain criminal offenses. The 2002 legislation also created a system of compulsory drug detention centers, most of which lack evidence-based addiction treatment services. In 2003, the Thai government launched a campaign to suppress drug trafficking and to enrol 300,000 people who use drugs into treatment. This campaign received international criticism because it involved extensive human rights violations, including more than 2,800 extrajudicial killings of suspected drug users and dealers.
Why Was This Study Done?
Drug-related arrests and compulsory detention of drug users are increasing in Thailand but what is the impact of current policing practices on drug users and on public health? In this qualitative study (a study that aims for an in-depth understanding of human behavior), the researchers use thematic analysis informed by the Rhodes' Risk Environment Framework to document the social and structural factors that led to encounters with the police among PWID in Bangkok between 2008 and 2012, the policing tactics employed during these encounters, and the associated health consequences of these encounters. The Risk Environment Framework posits that a range of social, political, economic, and physical environmental factors interact with each other and shape the production of drug-related harm.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
Between July 2011 and June 2012, the researchers conducted in-depth interviews with a convenience sample (a non-random sample from a nearby population) of 42 participants in the Mitsampan Community Research Project, an investigation of drug-using behavior, health care access, and drug-related harms among PWID in Bangkok. Respondents reported that policing activities had intensified since rapid urine toxicology screening became widely available and since the initiation of a crackdown on drug users in 2011. They described various forms of violence and misconduct that they had experienced during confrontations with police, including false accusations, degrading stop and search procedures, and excessive use of force. Urine drug testing was identified as a key tool used by the police, with some respondents describing how police caused unnecessary humiliation by requesting urine samples in public places. It was also reported that the police used positive test results as a means of extortion. Finally, some respondents reported feeling powerless in relation to the police and cited fear of retaliation as an important barrier to obtaining redress for police corruption. Others reported that they had adopted strategies to avoid the police such as staying indoors, a strategy likely to impede access to health care, or changing their drug-using behavior by, for example, injecting midazolam rather than methamphetamine, a practice associated with an increased risk of injection-related complications.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that the policing of PWID in Bangkok between 2008 and 2012 involved injustices, human rights abuses, and corruption and highlight the potential for widespread misuse of urine drug testing. Moreover, they suggest that policing practices in this setting may have increased the vulnerability of PWID to poor health by impeding their access to health care and by increasing the occurrence of risky drug-using behaviors. Because this study involved a small convenience sample of PWID, these findings may not be generalizable to other areas of Bangkok or Thailand and do not indicate whether police misconduct and corruption is highly prevalent across the all police departments in Bangkok. Nevertheless, these findings suggest that multilevel structural changes and interventions are needed to mitigate the harm associated with policing of illicit drug use in Bangkok. These changes will need to ensure full accountability for police misconduct and access to legal services for victims of this misconduct. They will also need to include ethical guidelines for urine drug testing and the reform of policies that promote repressive policing and compulsory detention.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at
This study is further discussed in a PLOS Medicine Perspective by Burris and Koester
Human Rights Watch, a global organization dedicated to defending and protecting human rights, has information about drug policy and human rights, which includes information on Thailand
The Global Commission on Drug Policy published a report in June 2012 entitled “The War on Drugs and HIV/AIDS: How the Criminalization of Drug Use Fuels the Global Pandemic” (available in several languages)
The Global Commission on HIV and the Law published a report in July 2012 entitled “HIV and the Law: Risk, Rights and Health” (available in several languages), the Open Society Foundations have prepared a briefing on this report
More information about the Mitsampan Community Research Project is available
PMCID: PMC3858231  PMID: 24339753
12.  Disability Transitions and Health Expectancies among Adults 45 Years and Older in Malawi: A Cohort-Based Model 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(5):e1001435.
Collin Payne and colleagues investigated development of disabilities and years expected to live with disabilities in participants 45 years and older participating in the Malawi Longitudinal Survey of Families and Health.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Falling fertility and increasing life expectancy contribute to a growing elderly population in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA); by 2060, persons aged 45 y and older are projected to be 25% of SSA's population, up from 10% in 2010. Aging in SSA is associated with unique challenges because of poverty and inadequate social supports. However, despite its importance for understanding the consequences of population aging, the evidence about the prevalence of disabilities and functional limitations due to poor physical health among older adults in SSA continues to be very limited.
Methods and Findings
Participants came from 2006, 2008, and 2010 waves of the Malawi Longitudinal Survey of Families and Health, a study of the rural population in Malawi. We investigate how poor physical health results in functional limitations that limit the day-to-day activities of individuals in domains relevant to this subsistence-agriculture context. These disabilities were parameterized based on questions from the SF-12 questionnaire about limitations in daily living activities. We estimated age-specific patterns of functional limitations and the transitions over time between different disability states using a discrete-time hazard model. The estimated transition rates were then used to calculate the first (to our knowledge) microdata-based health expectancies calculated for SSA. The risks of experiencing functional limitations due to poor physical health are high in this population, and the onset of disabilities happens early in life. Our analyses show that 45-y-old women can expect to spend 58% (95% CI, 55%–64%) of their remaining 28 y of life (95% CI, 25.7–33.5) with functional limitations; 45-y-old men can expect to live 41% (95% CI, 35%–46%) of their remaining 25.4 y (95% CI, 23.3–28.8) with such limitations. Disabilities related to functional limitations are shown to have a substantial negative effect on individuals' labor activities, and are negatively related to subjective well-being.
Individuals in this population experience a lengthy struggle with disabling conditions in adulthood, with high probabilities of remitting and relapsing between states of functional limitation. Given the strong association of disabilities with work efforts and subjective well-being, this research suggests that current national health policies and international donor-funded health programs in SSA inadequately target the physical health of mature and older adults.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
The population of the world is getting older. In almost every country, the over-60 age group is growing faster than any other age group. In 2000, globally, there were about 605 million people aged 60 years or more; by 2050, 2 billion people will be in this age group. Much of this increase in the elderly population will be in low-income countries. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, 10% of the population is currently aged 45 years or more, but by 2060, a quarter of the population will be so-called mature adults. In all countries, population aging is the result of women having fewer children (falling fertility) and people living longer (increasing life expectancy). Thus, population aging is a demographic transition, a change in birth and death rates. In low- and middle-income countries, population aging is occurring in parallel with an “epidemiological transition,” a shift from communicable (infectious) diseases to non-communicable diseases (for example, heart disease) as the primary causes of illness and death.
Why Was This Study Done?
Both the demographic and the epidemiological transition have public health implications for low-income countries. Good health is important for the independence and economic productivity of older people. Productive older people can help younger populations financially and physically, and help compensate for the limitations experienced by younger populations infected with HIV. Also, low-income countries lack social safety nets, so disabled older adults can be a burden on younger populations. Thus, the health of older individuals is important to the well-being of people of all ages. As populations age, low-income countries will need to invest in health care for mature and elderly adults and in disease prevention programs to prevent or delay the onset of non-communicable diseases, which can limit normal daily activities by causing disabilities. Before providing these services, national policy makers need to know the proportion of their population with disabilities, the functional limitations caused by poor physical health, and the health expectancies (the number of years a person can expect to be in good health) of older people in their country. In this cohort modeling study, the researchers estimate health expectancies and transition rates between different levels of disability among mature adults in Malawi, one of the world's poorest countries, using data collected by the Malawi Longitudinal Survey of Families and Health (MLSFH) on economic, social, and health conditions in a rural population. Because Malawi has shorter life expectancies and earlier onset of disability than wealthier countries, the authors considered individuals aged 45 and older as mature adults at risk for disability.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers categorized the participants in the 2006, 2008, and 2010 waves of the MLSFH into three levels of functional limitation (healthy, moderately limited, and severely limited) based on answers to questions in the SF-12 health survey questionnaire that ask about disabilities that limit daily activities that rural Malawians perform. The researchers estimated age–gender patterns of functional limitations and transition rates between different disability states using a discrete-time hazard model, and health expectancies by running a microsimulation to model the aging of synthetic cohorts with various starting ages but the same gender and functional limitation distributions as the study population. These analyses show that the chance of becoming physically disabled rises sharply with age, with 45-year-old women in rural Malawi expected to spend 58% of their estimated remaining 28 years with functional limitations, and 45-year-old men expected to live 41% of their remaining 25.4 years with functional limitations. Also, on average, a 45-year-old woman will spend 2.7 years with moderate functional limitation and 0.6 years with severe functional limitation before she reaches 55; for men the corresponding values are 1.6 and 0.4 years. Around 50% of moderately and 60%–80% of severely limited individuals stated that pain interfered quite a bit or extremely with their normal work during the past four weeks, suggesting that pain treatment may help reduce disability.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that mature adults in rural Malawi will have some degree of disability during much of their remaining lifetime. The risks of experiencing functional limitations are higher and the onset of persistent disabilities happens earlier in Malawi than in more developed contexts—the proportions of remaining life spent with severe limitations at age 45 in Malawi are comparable to those of 80-year-olds in the US. The accuracy of these findings is likely to be affected by assumptions made during modeling and by the quality of the data fed into the models. Nevertheless, these findings suggest that functional limitations, which have a negative effect on the labor activity of individuals, will become more prominent in Malawi (and probably other sub-Saharan countries) as the age composition of populations shifts over the coming years. Older populations in sub-Saharan Africa are not targeted well by health policies and programs at present. Consequently, these findings suggest that policy makers will need to ensure that additional financial resources are provided to improve health-care provision for aging individuals and to lessen the high rates of functional limitation and associated disabilities.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at
This study is further discussed in a PLoS Medicine Perspective by Andreas Stuck, et al.
The World Health Organization provides information on many aspects of aging (in several languages); the WHO Study on Global Ageing and Adult Health (SAGE) is compiling longitudinal information on the health and well-being of adult populations and the aging process
The United Nations Population Fund and HelpAge International publication Ageing in the Twenty-First Century is available
HelpAge International is an international nongovernmental organization that helps older people claim their rights, challenge discrimination, and overcome poverty, so that they can lead dignified, secure, and healthy lives
More information on the Malawi Longitudinal Study of Families and Health is available
PMCID: PMC3646719  PMID: 23667343
13.  Reduction of inequalities in health: assessing evidence-based tools 
The reduction of health inequalities is a focus of many national and international health organisations. The need for pragmatic evidence-based approaches has led to the development of a number of evidence-based equity initiatives. This paper describes a new program that focuses upon evidence- based tools, which are useful for policy initiatives that reduce inequities.
This paper is based on a presentation that was given at the "Regional Consultation on Policy Tools: Equity in Population Health Reports," held in Toronto, Canada in June 2002.
Five assessment tools were presented. 1. A database of systematic reviews on the effects of educational, legal, social, and health interventions to reduce unfair inequalities is being established through the Cochrane and Campbell Collaborations. 2 Decision aids and shared decision making can be facilitated in disadvantaged groups by 'health coaches' to help people become better decision makers, negotiators, and navigators of the health system; a pilot study in Chile has provided proof of this concept. 3. The CIET Cycle: Combining adapted cluster survey techniques with qualitative methods, CIET's population based applications support evidence-based decision making at local and national levels. The CIET map generates maps directly from survey or routine institutional data, to be used as evidence-based decisions aids. Complex data can be displayed attractively, providing an important tool for studying and comparing health indicators among and between different populations. 4. The Ottawa Equity Gauge is applying the Global Equity Gauge Alliance framework to an industrialised country setting. 5 The Needs-Based Health Assessment Toolkit, established to assemble information on which clinical and health policy decisions can be based, is being expanded to ensure a focus on distribution and average health indicators.
Evidence-based planning tools have much to offer the goal of equitable health development.
PMCID: PMC1609168  PMID: 17005046
14.  Enhancing measurement of primary health care indicators using an equity lens: An ethnographic study 
One important goal of strengthening and renewal in primary healthcare (PHC) is achieving health equity, particularly for vulnerable populations. There has been a flurry of international activity toward the establishment of indicators relevant to measuring and monitoring PHC. Yet, little attention has been paid to whether current indicators: 1) are sensitive enough to detect inequities in processes or outcomes of care, particularly in relation to the health needs of vulnerable groups or 2) adequately capture the complexity of delivering PHC services across diverse groups. The purpose of this paper is to contribute to the discourse regarding what ought to be considered a PHC indicator and to provide some concrete examples illustrating the need for modification and development of new indicators given the goal of PHC achieving health equity.
Within the context of a larger study of PHC delivery at two Health Centers serving people facing multiple disadvantages, a mixed methods ethnographic design was used. Three sets of data collected included: (a) participant observation data focused on the processes of PHC delivery, (b) interviews with Health Center staff, and (c) interviews with patients.
Thematic analysis suggests there is a disjuncture between clinical work addressing the complex needs of patients facing multiple vulnerabilities such as extreme levels of poverty, multiple chronic conditions, and lack of housing and extant indicators and how they are measured. Items could better measure and monitor performance at the management level including, what is delivered (e.g., focus on social determinants of health) and how services are delivered to socially disadvantaged populations (e.g., effective use of space, expectation for all staff to have welcoming and mutually respectful interactions). New indicators must be developed to capture inputs (e.g., stability of funding sources) and outputs (e.g., whole person care) in ways that better align with care provided to marginalized populations.
The current emphasis on achieving greater equity through PHC, the continued calls for the renewal and strengthening of PHC, and the use of monitoring and performance indicators highlight the relevance of ensuring that there are more accurate methods to capture the complex work of PHC organizations.
PMCID: PMC3182883  PMID: 21892956
15.  Facilitating the Recruitment of Minority Ethnic People into Research: Qualitative Case Study of South Asians and Asthma 
PLoS Medicine  2009;6(10):e1000148.
Aziz Sheikh and colleagues report on a qualitative study in the US and the UK to investigate ways to bolster recruitment of South Asians into asthma studies, including making inclusion of diverse populations mandatory.
There is international interest in enhancing recruitment of minority ethnic people into research, particularly in disease areas with substantial ethnic inequalities. A recent systematic review and meta-analysis found that UK South Asians are at three times increased risk of hospitalisation for asthma when compared to white Europeans. US asthma trials are far more likely to report enrolling minority ethnic people into studies than those conducted in Europe. We investigated approaches to bolster recruitment of South Asians into UK asthma studies through qualitative research with US and UK researchers, and UK community leaders.
Methods and Findings
Interviews were conducted with 36 researchers (19 UK and 17 US) from diverse disciplinary backgrounds and ten community leaders from a range of ethnic, religious, and linguistic backgrounds, followed by self-completion questionnaires. Interviews were digitally recorded, translated where necessary, and transcribed. The Framework approach was used for analysis. Barriers to ethnic minority participation revolved around five key themes: (i) researchers' own attitudes, which ranged from empathy to antipathy to (in a minority of cases) misgivings about the scientific importance of the question under study; (ii) stereotypes and prejudices about the difficulties in engaging with minority ethnic populations; (iii) the logistical challenges posed by language, cultural differences, and research costs set against the need to demonstrate value for money; (iv) the unique contexts of the two countries; and (v) poorly developed understanding amongst some minority ethnic leaders of what research entails and aims to achieve. US researchers were considerably more positive than their UK counterparts about the importance and logistics of including ethnic minorities, which appeared to a large extent to reflect the longer-term impact of the National Institutes of Health's requirement to include minority ethnic people.
Most researchers and community leaders view the broadening of participation in research as important and are reasonably optimistic about the feasibility of recruiting South Asians into asthma studies provided that the barriers can be overcome. Suggested strategies for improving recruitment in the UK included a considerably improved support structure to provide academics with essential contextual information (e.g., languages of particular importance and contact with local gatekeepers), and the need to ensure that care is taken to engage with the minority ethnic communities in ways that are both culturally appropriate and sustainable; ensuring reciprocal benefits was seen as one key way of avoiding gatekeeper fatigue. Although voluntary measures to encourage researchers may have some impact, greater impact might be achieved if UK funding bodies followed the lead of the US National Institutes of Health requiring recruitment of ethnic minorities. Such a move is, however, likely in the short- to medium-term, to prove unpopular with many UK academics because of the added “hassle” factor in engaging with more diverse populations than many have hitherto been accustomed to.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
In an ideal world, everyone would have the same access to health care and the same health outcomes (responses to health interventions). However, health inequalities—gaps in health care and in health between different parts of the population—exist in many countries. In particular, people belonging to ethnic minorities in the UK, the US, and elsewhere have poorer health outcomes for several conditions than people belonging to the ethnic majority (ethnicity is defined by social characteristics such as cultural tradition or national origin). For example, in the UK, people whose ancestors came from the Indian subcontinent (also known as South Asians and comprising in the main of people of Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi origin) are three times as likely to be admitted to hospital for asthma as white Europeans. The reasons underpinning ethnic health inequalities are complex. Some inequalities may reflect intrinsic differences between groups of people—some ethnic minorities may inherit genes that alter their susceptibility to a specific disease. Other ethnic health inequalities may arise because of differences in socioeconomic status or because different cultural traditions affect the uptake of health care services.
Why Was This Study Done?
Minority ethnic groups are often under-represented in health research, which could limit the generalizability of research findings. That is, an asthma treatment that works well in a trial where all the participants are white Europeans might not be suitable for South Asians. Clinicians might nevertheless use the treatment in all their patients irrespective of their ethnicity and thus inadvertently increase ethnic health inequality. So, how can ethnic minorities be encouraged to enroll into research studies? In this qualitative study, the investigators try to answer this question by talking to US and UK asthma researchers and UK community leaders about how they feel about enrolling ethnic minorities into research studies. The investigators chose to compare the feelings of US and UK asthma researchers because minority ethnic people are more likely to enroll into US asthma studies than into UK studies, possibly because the US National Institute of Health's (NIH) Revitalization Act 1993 mandates that all NIH-funded clinical research must include people from ethnic minority groups; there is no similar mandatory policy in the UK.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The investigators interviewed 16 UK and 17 US asthma researchers and three UK social researchers with experience of working with ethnic minorities. They also interviewed ten community leaders from diverse ethnic, religious and linguistic backgrounds. They then analyzed the interviews using the “Framework” approach, an analytical method in which qualitative data are classified and organized according to key themes and then interpreted. By comparing the data from the UK and US researchers, the investigators identified several barriers to ethnic minority participation in health research including: the attitudes of researchers towards the scientific importance of recruiting ethnic minority people into health research studies; prejudices about the difficulties of including ethnic minorities in health research; and the logistical challenges posed by language and cultural differences. In general, the US researchers were more positive than their UK counterparts about the importance and logistics of including ethnic minorities in health research. Finally, the investigators found that some community leaders had a poor understanding of what research entails and about its aims.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings reveal a large gap between US and UK researchers in terms of policy, attitudes, practices, and experiences in relation to including ethnic minorities in asthma research. However, they also suggest that most UK researchers and community leaders believe that it is both important and feasible to increase the participation of South Asians in asthma studies. Although some of these findings may have been affected by the study participants sometimes feeling obliged to give “politically correct” answers, these findings are likely to be generalizable to other diseases and to other parts of Europe. Given their findings, the researchers warn that a voluntary code of practice that encourages the recruitment of ethnic minority people into health research studies is unlikely to be successful. Instead, they suggest, the best way to increase the representation of ethnic minority people in health research in the UK might be to follow the US lead and introduce a policy that requires their inclusion in such research.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
Families USA, a US nonprofit organization that campaigns for high-quality, affordable health care for all Americans, has information about many aspects of minority health in the US, including an interactive game about minority health issues
The US Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has a section on minority health
The UK Department of Health provides information on health inequalities and a recent report on the experiences of patients in Black and minority ethnic groups
The UK Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology also has a short article on ethnicity and health
Information on the NIH Revitalization Act 1993 is available
NHS Evidences Ethnicity and Health has a variety of policy, clinical, and research resources on ethnicity and health
PMCID: PMC2752116  PMID: 19823568
16.  The Do-Well study: protocol for a randomised controlled trial, economic and qualitative process evaluations of domiciliary welfare rights advice for socio-economically disadvantaged older people recruited via primary health care 
BMC Public Health  2012;12:382.
Older people in poor health are more likely to need extra money, aids and adaptations to allow them to remain independent and cope with ill health, yet in the UK many do not claim the welfare benefits to which they are entitled. Welfare rights advice interventions lead to greater welfare income, but have not been rigorously evaluated for health benefits. This study will evaluate the effects on health and well-being of a domiciliary welfare rights advice service provided by local government or voluntary organisations in North East England for independent living, socio-economically disadvantaged older people (aged ≥60 yrs), recruited from general (primary care) practices.
The study is a pragmatic, individually randomised, single blinded, wait-list controlled trial of welfare rights advice versus usual care, with embedded economic and qualitative process evaluations. The qualitative study will examine whether the intervention is delivered as intended; explore responses to the intervention and examine reasons for the trial findings; and explore the potential for translation of the intervention into routine policy and practice. The primary outcome is the effect on health-related quality of life, measured using the CASP 19 questionnaire. Volunteer men and women aged ≥60 years (1/household) will be identified from general practice patient registers. Patients in nursing homes or hospitals at the time of recruitment will be excluded. General practice populations will be recruited from disadvantaged areas of North East England, including urban, rural and semi-rural areas, with no previous access to targeted welfare rights advice services delivered to primary care patients. A minimum of 750 participants will be randomised to intervention and control arms in a 1:1 ratio.
Achieving a trial design that is both ethical and acceptable to potential participants, required methodological compromises. The choice of follow-up length required a trade-off between sufficient time to demonstrate health impact and the need to allow the control group access to the intervention as early as possible. The study will have implications for fundamental understanding of social inequalities and how to tackle them, and provides a model for similar evaluations of health-orientated social interventions. If the health benefits of this intervention are proven, targeted welfare rights advice services should be extended to ensure widespread provision for older people and other vulnerable groups.
Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN Number
PMCID: PMC3408348  PMID: 22639988
Randomised Controlled Trial; Welfare Rights Advice; Older People; Primary Care
17.  Comparative Performance of Private and Public Healthcare Systems in Low- and Middle-Income Countries: A Systematic Review 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(6):e1001244.
A systematic review conducted by Sanjay Basu and colleagues reevaluates the evidence relating to comparative performance of public versus private sector healthcare delivery in low- and middle-income countries.
Private sector healthcare delivery in low- and middle-income countries is sometimes argued to be more efficient, accountable, and sustainable than public sector delivery. Conversely, the public sector is often regarded as providing more equitable and evidence-based care. We performed a systematic review of research studies investigating the performance of private and public sector delivery in low- and middle-income countries.
Methods and Findings
Peer-reviewed studies including case studies, meta-analyses, reviews, and case-control analyses, as well as reports published by non-governmental organizations and international agencies, were systematically collected through large database searches, filtered through methodological inclusion criteria, and organized into six World Health Organization health system themes: accessibility and responsiveness; quality; outcomes; accountability, transparency, and regulation; fairness and equity; and efficiency. Of 1,178 potentially relevant unique citations, data were obtained from 102 articles describing studies conducted in low- and middle-income countries. Comparative cohort and cross-sectional studies suggested that providers in the private sector more frequently violated medical standards of practice and had poorer patient outcomes, but had greater reported timeliness and hospitality to patients. Reported efficiency tended to be lower in the private than in the public sector, resulting in part from perverse incentives for unnecessary testing and treatment. Public sector services experienced more limited availability of equipment, medications, and trained healthcare workers. When the definition of “private sector” included unlicensed and uncertified providers such as drug shop owners, most patients appeared to access care in the private sector; however, when unlicensed healthcare providers were excluded from the analysis, the majority of people accessed public sector care. “Competitive dynamics” for funding appeared between the two sectors, such that public funds and personnel were redirected to private sector development, followed by reductions in public sector service budgets and staff.
Studies evaluated in this systematic review do not support the claim that the private sector is usually more efficient, accountable, or medically effective than the public sector; however, the public sector appears frequently to lack timeliness and hospitality towards patients.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Health care can be provided through public and private providers. Public health care is usually provided by the government through national healthcare systems. Private health care can be provided through “for profit” hospitals and self-employed practitioners, and “not for profit” non-government providers, including faith-based organizations.
There is considerable ideological debate around whether low- and middle-income countries should strengthen public versus private healthcare services, but in reality, most low- and middle-income countries use both types of healthcare provision. Recently, as the global economic recession has put major constraints on government budgets—the major funding source for healthcare expenditures in most countries—disputes between the proponents of private and public systems have escalated, further fuelled by the recommendation of International Monetary Fund (an international finance institution) that countries increase the scope of private sector provision in health care as part of loan conditions to reduce government debt. However, critics of the private health sector believe that public healthcare provision is of most benefit to poor people and is the only way to achieve universal and equitable access to health care.
Why Was This Study Done?
Both sides of the public versus private healthcare debate draw on selected case reports to defend their viewpoints, but there is a widely held view that the private health system is more efficient than the public health system. Therefore, in order to inform policy, there is an urgent need for robust evidence to evaluate the quality and effectiveness of the health care provided through both systems. In this study, the authors reviewed all of the evidence in a systematic way to evaluate available data on public and private sector performance.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used eight databases and a comprehensive key word search to identify and review appropriate published data and studies of private and public sector performance in low- and middle-income countries. They assessed selected studies against the World Health Organization's six essential themes of health systems—accessibility and responsiveness; quality; outcomes; accountability, transparency, and regulation; fairness and equity; and efficiency—and conducted a narrative review of each theme.
Out of the 102 relevant studies included in their comparative analysis, 59 studies were research studies and 13 involved meta-analysis, with the rest involving case reports or reviews. The researchers found that study findings varied considerably across countries studied (one-third of studies were conducted in Africa and a third in Southeast Asia) and by the methods used.
Financial barriers to care (such as user fees) were reported for both public and private systems. Although studies report that patients in the private sector experience better timeliness and hospitality, studies suggest that providers in the private sector more frequently violate accepted medical standards and have lower reported efficiency.
What Do These Findings Mean?
This systematic review did not support previous views that private sector delivery of health care in low- and middle-income settings is more efficient, accountable, or effective than public sector delivery. Each system has its strengths and weaknesses, but importantly, in both sectors, there were financial barriers to care, and each had poor accountability and transparency. This systematic review highlights a limited and poor-quality evidence base regarding the comparative performance of the two systems.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at
A previous PLoS Medicine study examined the outpatient care provided by the public and private sector in low-income countries
The WHO website provides more information on healthcare systems
The World Bank website provides information on health system financing
Oxfam provides an argument against increased private health care in poor countries
PMCID: PMC3378609  PMID: 22723748
18.  Chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME) in adults: a qualitative study of perspectives from professional practice 
BMC Family Practice  2010;11:89.
Chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME) can cause profound and prolonged illness and disability, and poses significant problems of uncertainty for healthcare professionals in its diagnosis and management. The aim of this qualitative study was to explore the nature of professional 'best practice' in working with people with CFS/ME.
The views and experiences of health care practitioners (HCPs) were sought, who had been judged by people with CFS/ME themselves to have been particularly helpful and effective. Qualitative semi-structured interviews following a topic guide were carried out with six health care practitioners. Interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed and subject to thematic analysis.
Five main themes were developed: 1) Diagnosis; 2) Professional perspectives on living with CFS/ME; 3) Interventions for treatment and management; 4) Professional values and support for people with CFS/ME and their families; 5) Health professional roles and working practices. Key findings related to: the diagnostic process, especially the degree of uncertainty which may be shared by primary care physicians and patients alike; the continued denial in some quarters of the existence of CFS/ME as a condition; the variability, complexity, and serious impact of the condition on life and living; the onus on the person with CFS/ME to manage their condition, supported by HCPs; the wealth of often conflicting and confusing information on the condition and options for treatment; and the vital role of extended listening and trustful relationships with patients.
While professional frustrations were clearly expressed about the variability of services both in primary and specialist care and continuing equivocal attitudes to CFS/ME as a condition, there were also strong positive messages for people with CFS/ME where the right services are in place. Many of the findings from these practitioners seen by their patients as helping them more effectively, accord with the existing literature identifying the particular importance of listening skills, respect and trust for establishing a therapeutic relationship which recognises key features of the patient trajectory and promotes effective person-centred management of this complex condition. These findings indicate the need to build such skills and knowledge more systematically into professional training informed by the experience of specialist services and those living with the condition.
PMCID: PMC2994803  PMID: 21078171
19.  Analysis of social networks supporting the self-management of type 2 diabetes for people with mental illness 
People with mental illness have been identified as being more likely to experience type 2 diabetes and the complications arising from this, necessitating more complex chronic illness self-management. Social support has been identified as a significant factor in the successful adoption of lifestyle change for people with type 2 diabetes, however people with mental illness often have impoverished social networks leading to greater reliance upon professional care givers. This study maps the support provided by formal (paid and professional carers) and informal networks to people with mental illness and type 2 diabetes, comparing the experiences of people with a spouse with those without one.
Interviews were conducted with 29 clients of a community nursing service with mental health problems who receive professional support to self-manage type 2 diabetes. Participants were asked to complete an egocentric social network map which involved mapping the people and services who support them to manage their health. Demographic data was collected as was data about co-morbidities and service use within the last 6 months. Network maps were supplemented by a series of open-ended questions about self-management practices, who supports these practices and what support they provide.
Participants identified small social networks with few friendship ties. These networks had diminished due to illness. For people with a spouse, this person provided significant support for chronic illness self-management performing a range of daily care and illness management tasks. People without a spouse were more reliant on professional and paid care givers for daily care and illness management. People without a spouse also demonstrated greater reliance upon weak social ties for emotional support and social connection and often developed friendships with formal caregivers.
Spousal support reduces the need for professional services. In the absence of a spouse, participants were more reliant upon paid and professional carers and weaker social ties for chronic illness support and social connection leading to greater vulnerability of loss of support.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12913-015-0897-x) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4490681  PMID: 26138825
Chronic illness self-management; Social networks; Mental health; Type 2 diabetes; Health services
20.  Experiences of Living and Dying With COPD 
Executive Summary
In July 2010, the Medical Advisory Secretariat (MAS) began work on a Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) evidentiary framework, an evidence-based review of the literature surrounding treatment strategies for patients with COPD. This project emerged from a request by the Health System Strategy Division of the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care that MAS provide them with an evidentiary platform on the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of COPD interventions.
After an initial review of health technology assessments and systematic reviews of COPD literature, and consultation with experts, MAS identified the following topics for analysis: vaccinations (influenza and pneumococcal), smoking cessation, multidisciplinary care, pulmonary rehabilitation, long-term oxygen therapy, noninvasive positive pressure ventilation for acute and chronic respiratory failure, hospital-at-home for acute exacerbations of COPD, and telehealth (including telemonitoring and telephone support). Evidence-based analyses were prepared for each of these topics. For each technology, an economic analysis was also completed where appropriate. In addition, a review of the qualitative literature on patient, caregiver, and provider perspectives on living and dying with COPD was conducted, as were reviews of the qualitative literature on each of the technologies included in these analyses.
The Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Mega-Analysis series is made up of the following reports, which can be publicly accessed at the MAS website at:
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) Evidentiary Framework
Influenza and Pneumococcal Vaccinations for Patients With Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): An Evidence-Based Analysis
Smoking Cessation for Patients With Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): An Evidence-Based Analysis
Community-Based Multidisciplinary Care for Patients With Stable Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): An Evidence-Based Analysis
Pulmonary Rehabilitation for Patients With Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): An Evidence-Based Analysis
Long-Term Oxygen Therapy for Patients With Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): An Evidence-Based Analysis
Noninvasive Positive Pressure Ventilation for Acute Respiratory Failure Patients With Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): An Evidence-Based Analysis
Noninvasive Positive Pressure Ventilation for Chronic Respiratory Failure Patients With Stable Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): An Evidence-Based Analysis
Hospital-at-Home Programs for Patients With Acute Exacerbations of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): An Evidence-Based Analysis
Home Telehealth for Patients With Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): An Evidence-Based Analysis
Cost-Effectiveness of Interventions for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Using an Ontario Policy Model
Experiences of Living and Dying With COPD: A Systematic Review and Synthesis of the Qualitative Empirical Literature
For more information on the qualitative review, please contact Mita Giacomini at:
For more information on the economic analysis, please visit the PATH website:
The Toronto Health Economics and Technology Assessment (THETA) collaborative has produced an associated report on patient preference for mechanical ventilation. For more information, please visit the THETA website:
Objective of Analysis
The objective of this analysis was to review empirical qualitative research on the experiences of patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), informal caregivers (“carers”), and health care providers—from the point of diagnosis, through daily living and exacerbation episodes, to the end of life.
Clinical Need and Target Population
Qualitative empirical studies (from social sciences, clinical, and related fields) can offer important information about how patients experience their condition. This exploration of the qualitative literature offers insights into patients’ perspectives on COPD, their needs, and how interventions might affect their experiences. The experiences of caregivers are also explored.
Research Question
What do patients with COPD, their informal caregivers (“carers”), and health care providers experience over the course of COPD?
Research Methods
Literature Search
Search Strategy
Literature searches for studies published from January 1, 2000, to November 2010 were performed on November 29, 2010, using OVID MEDLINE; on November 26, 2010, using ISI Web of Science; and on November 28, 2010, using EBSCO Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL). Titles and abstracts were reviewed by a single reviewer and, for those studies meeting the eligibility criteria, full-text articles were obtained. One additional report, highly relevant to the synthesis, appeared in early 2011 during the drafting of this analysis and was included post hoc.
Inclusion Criteria
English-language full reports
studies published between January 1, 2000, and November 2010
primary qualitative empirical research (using any descriptive or interpretive qualitative methodology, including the qualitative component of mixed-methods studies) and secondary syntheses of primary qualitative empirical research
studies addressing any aspect of the experiences of living or dying with COPD from the perspective of persons at risk, patients, health care providers, or informal carers; studies addressing multiple conditions were included if COPD was addressed explicitly
Exclusion Criteria
studies addressing topics other than the experiences of living or dying with COPD from the perspective of persons at risk, patients, health care providers, or informal carers
studies labelled “qualitative” but not using a qualitative descriptive or interpretive methodology (e.g., case studies, experiments, or observational analysis using qualitative categorical variables)
quantitative research (i.e., using statistical hypothesis testing, using primarily quantitative data or analyses, or expressing results in quantitative or statistical terms)
studies that did not pose an empirical research objective or question, or involve the primary or secondary analysis of empirical data
Outcomes of Interest
qualitative descriptions and interpretations (narrative or theoretical) of personal and social experiences of COPD
Summary of Findings
Experiences at Diagnosis
Patients typically seek initial treatment for an acute episode rather than for chronic early symptoms of COPD.
Many patients initially misunderstand terms such as COPD, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or exacerbation.
Patients may not realize that COPD is incurable and fatal; some physicians themselves do not consider early COPD to be a fatal disease.
Smokers may not readily understand or agree with the idea that smoking caused or worsens their COPD. Those who believe there is a causal link may feel regret or shame.
Experiences of Living Day to Day
COPD patients experience alternating good days and bad days. A roller-coaster pattern of ups and downs becomes apparent, and COPD becomes a way of life.
Patients use many means (social, psychological, medical, organizational) to control what they can, and to cope with what they cannot. Economic hardship, comorbidities, language barriers, and low health literacy can make coping more difficult.
Increasing vulnerability and unpredictable setbacks make patients dependent on others for practical assistance, but functional limitations, institutional living or self-consciousness can isolate patients from the people they need.
For smokers, medical advice to quit can conflict with increased desire to smoke as a coping strategy.
Many of the factors that isolate COPD patients from social contact also isolate them from health care.
Experiences of Exacerbations
Patients may not always attribute repeated exacerbations to advancing disease, instead seeing them as temporary setbacks caused by activities, environmental factors, faltering self-management, or infection.
Lack of confidence in community-based services leads some patients to seek hospital admission, but patients also feel vulnerable when hospitalized. They may feel dependent on others for care or traumatized by hospital care routines.
Upon hospital discharge following an exacerbation, patients may face new levels of uncertainty about their illness, prognosis, care providers, and supports.
Experiences of the End of Life
Patients tend to be poorly informed about the long-term prognosis of COPD and what to expect toward the end of life; this lack of understanding impairs quality of life as the disease progresses.
As the end of life approaches, COPD patients face the usual challenges of daily living, but in a context of increasing exacerbations and deepening dependency. Activities and mobility decrease, and life may become confined.
Some clinicians have difficulty identifying the beginning of “the end of life,” given the unpredictable course of COPD. Long-term physician-patient relationships, familiarity and understanding, trust, good communication skills, sensitivity, and secure discussion settings can help facilitate end-of-life discussions.
Divergent meanings and goals of palliative care in COPD lead to confusion about whether such services are the responsibility of home care, primary care, specialty care, or even critical care. Palliative end-of-life care may not be anticipated prior to referral for such care. A palliative care referral can convey the demoralizing message that providers have “given up.”
Experiences of Carers
Carers’ challenges often echo patients’ challenges, and include anxiety, uncertainty about the future, helplessness, powerlessness, depression, difficulties maintaining employment, loss of mobility and freedoms, strained relationships, and growing social isolation.
Carers feel pressured by their many roles, struggling to maintain patience when they feel overwhelmed, and often feeling guilty about not doing enough.
Carers often face their own health problems and may have difficulty sustaining employment.
Synthesis: A Disease Trajectory Reflecting Patient Experiences
The flux of needs in COPD calls for service continuity and flexibility to allow both health care providers and patients to respond to the unpredictable yet increasing demands of the disease over time.
PMCID: PMC3384365  PMID: 23074423
21.  Primary care priorities in addressing health equity: summary of the WONCA 2013 health equity workshop 
Research consistently shows that gaps in health and health care persist, and are even widening. While the strength of a country’s primary health care system and its primary care attributes significantly improves populations’ health and reduces inequity (differences in health and health care that are unfair and unjust), many areas, such as inequity reduction through the provision of health promotion and preventive services, are not explicitly addressed by general practice. Substantiating the role of primary care in reducing inequity as well as establishing educational training programs geared towards health inequity reduction and improvement of the health and health care of underserved populations are needed.
This paper summarizes the work performed at the World WONCA (World Organization of National Colleges and Academies of Family Medicine) 2013 Meetings’ Health Equity Workshop which aimed to explore how a better understanding of health inequities could enable primary care providers (PCPs)/general practitioners (GPs) to adopt strategies that could improve health outcomes through the delivery of primary health care. It explored the development of a health equity curriculum and opened a discussion on the future and potential impact of health equity training among GPs.
A survey completed by workshop participants on the current and expected levels of primary care participation in various inequity reduction activities showed that promoting access (availability and coverage) to primary care services was the most important priority. Assessment of the gaps between current and preferred priorities showed that to bridge expectations and actual performance, the following should be the focus of governments and health care systems: forming cross-national collaborations; incorporating health equity and cultural competency training in medical education; and, engaging in initiation of advocacy programs that involve major stakeholders in equity promotion policy making as well as promoting research on health equity.
This workshop formed the basis for the establishment of WONCA’s Health Equity Special Interest Group, set up in early 2014, aiming to bring the essential experience, skills and perspective of interested GPs around the world to address differences in health that are unfair, unjust, unnecessary but avoidable.
PMCID: PMC4226901  PMID: 25376383
Health equity; Disparities; Primary care
22.  Perceived barriers to healthcare for persons living in poverty in Quebec, Canada: the EQUIhealThY project 
Ensuring access to timely and appropriate primary healthcare for deprived patients is an issue facing all countries, even those with universal healthcare systems. There is a paucity of information on how patients living in a context of material and social deprivation perceive barriers in the healthcare system. This study combines the perspectives of persons living in poverty and of healthcare providers to explore barriers to responsive care for underserved persons with a view to developing equity-focused primary care.
In this participatory action research we used photovoice, together with a method known as ‘merging of knowledge and practice’ developed by ATD Fourth World, an international community organization working to eradicate poverty. The study was conducted in two teaching primary care practices in the Canadian province of Quebec. Participants consisted of 15 health professionals and six members of ATD Fourth World; approximately 60 group meetings were held. Data were analyzed through thematic analysis, in part with the involvement of persons living in poverty.
Three main barriers to responsive care in a context of poverty were highlighted by all participants: the difficult living conditions of people living in poverty, the poor quality of interactions between providers and underserved patients, and the complexity of healthcare system organization and functioning.
Our research revealed that unhealthy living conditions prevent persons living in poverty from accessing quality healthcare and maintaining good health. Also, the complexity of the healthcare system’s organization and functioning has a negative impact on the interactions with healthcare providers. Changes in policy and practice are needed to address those barriers and to achieve greater equity and provide more responsive care for persons living in poverty.
PMCID: PMC4300157  PMID: 25596816
Primary healthcare; Equity; Poverty; Quality of care; Participatory research; Social assistance
23.  Increasing Coverage and Decreasing Inequity in Insecticide-Treated Bed Net Use among Rural Kenyan Children 
PLoS Medicine  2007;4(8):e255.
Inexpensive and efficacious interventions that avert childhood deaths in sub-Saharan Africa have failed to reach effective coverage, especially among the poorest rural sectors. One particular example is insecticide-treated bed nets (ITNs). In this study, we present repeat observations of ITN coverage among rural Kenyan homesteads exposed at different times to a range of delivery models, and assess changes in coverage across socioeconomic groups.
Methods and Findings
We undertook a study of annual changes in ITN coverage among a cohort of 3,700 children aged 0–4 y in four districts of Kenya (Bondo, Greater Kisii, Kwale, and Makueni) annually between 2004 and 2006. Cross-sectional surveys of ITN coverage were undertaken coincidentally with the incremental availability of commercial sector nets (2004), the introduction of heavily subsidized nets through clinics (2005), and the introduction of free mass distributed ITNs (2006). The changing prevalence of ITN coverage was examined with special reference to the degree of equity in each delivery approach. ITN coverage was only 7.1% in 2004 when the predominant source of nets was the commercial retail sector. By the end of 2005, following the expansion of heavily subsidized clinic distribution system, ITN coverage rose to 23.5%. In 2006 a large-scale mass distribution of ITNs was mounted providing nets free of charge to children, resulting in a dramatic increase in ITN coverage to 67.3%. With each subsequent survey socioeconomic inequity in net coverage sequentially decreased: 2004 (most poor [2.9%] versus least poor [15.6%]; concentration index 0.281); 2005 (most poor [17.5%] versus least poor [37.9%]; concentration index 0.131), and 2006 with near-perfect equality (most poor [66.3%] versus least poor [66.6%]; concentration index 0.000). The free mass distribution method achieved highest coverage among the poorest children, the highly subsidised clinic nets programme was marginally in favour of the least poor, and the commercial social marketing favoured the least poor.
Rapid scaling up of ITN coverage among Africa's poorest rural children can be achieved through mass distribution campaigns. These efforts must form an important adjunct to regular, routine access to ITNs through clinics, and each complimentary approach should aim to make this intervention free to clients to ensure equitable access among those least able to afford even the cost of a heavily subsidized net.
Noor and colleagues found low levels of use of insecticide-treated mosquito nets when nets were mainly available through the commercial sector. Levels increased when subsidized nets were introduced and rose further when they were made available free.
Editors' Summary
Malaria is one of the world's most important killer diseases. There are over a million deaths from malaria every year, most of those who die are children in Africa. Frequent attacks of the disease have severe consequences for the health of many millions more. The parasite that causes malaria is spread by bites from certain species of mosquito. They mostly bite during the hours of darkness, so sleeping under a mosquito net provides some protection. In some countries where malaria is a problem, bed nets are already used by many people. A very much higher level of protection is obtained, however, by sleeping under a mosquito net that has been impregnated with insecticide. The insecticides used are of extremely low toxicity for humans. As insecticide-treated nets (ITNs) are a relatively new idea, people do need to be persuaded to buy and use them. ITNs must also be re-impregnated regularly, although long-lasting ones that remain effective for 3–5 y (or 21 washes) are now widely distributed. The nets are inexpensive by Western standards but the people who are most at risk of malaria have very little income. Governments and health agencies are keen to increase the use of nets, particularly for children and pregnant women. The main approach used has been that of “social marketing.” In other words, advertising campaigns promote the use of nets, and their local manufacture is encouraged. The nets are then sold on the open market, sometimes with government subsidies. This approach has been very controversial. Many people have argued that ways must be found to make nets available free to all who need them, but others believe that this is not necessary and that high rates of ITN use can be brought about by social marketing alone.
Why Was This Study Done?
It has been known for more than ten years that ITNs are very effective in reducing cases of malaria, but there is still a long way to go before every child at risk sleeps under an ITN. In Kenya, a country where malaria is very common, a program to increase net use began in 2002, using the social marketing approach. In 2004 most of the nets available in Kenya were those on sale commercially. In October 2004 health clinics started to distribute more heavily subsidized ITNs for children and pregnant women and, in 2006, a mass distribution program began of free nets for children. The researchers, based at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), wanted to find whether the number of children sleeping under ITNs changed as a result of these changes in policy. They also wanted to see how the rate of net use varied between families of different socioeconomic levels, as the poorest children are known to be most likely to die from malaria.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
This is a large study involving 3,700 children in four districts of Kenya. The researchers conducted surveys and then calculated the rates of net use in 2004, 2005, and 2006. In the first survey, when nets were available to most people only through the commercial sector, only 7% of children were sleeping under ITNs, with a very big difference between the poorest families (3%) and the least poor (16%). By the end of 2005, the year in which subsidized nets became increasingly available in clinics, the overall rate of use rose to 24%. By the end of 2006, following the free distribution campaign, it was 66%. The 2006 figure was almost exactly the same for the poorest and least poor families.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The rate of net use in the districts in the survey is much higher than expected, even though one-third of children were still not protected by ITNs. The sharp increases—particularly among the poorest children—after heavily subsidized nets were introduced and then after the free mass distribution suggests that this is a very good use of the limited amount of funds available for health care in Kenya and other countries where malaria is common. If fewer Kenyan children have malaria there will be cost savings to the health services. While some might claim that it is obvious that nets will be more widely used if they are free, there has been heated debate as to whether this is really true. Evidence has been needed and this research now provides strong support for free distribution. The study has also identified other factors which will be important in the continuing efforts to increase ITN use.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provide information on malaria and on insecticide-treated nets (in English and Spanish)
The MedlinePlus encyclopedia contains a page on malaria (in English and Spanish). MedlinePlus brings together authoritative information from the US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, and other government agencies and health-related organizations
Information is available from the World Health Organization on malaria (in English, Spanish, French, Russian, Arabic, and Chinese) and from the Roll Back Malaria Partnership on the use of insecticide-treated nets
For information about the Medical Research Institute see the organization's Web site
The BBC Web site has a “country profile” about Kenya
Malaria data and related publications can be found on the Malaria Atlas Project Web site, which is funded by the Wellcome Trust, UK and is a joint project between the Malaria Public Health & Epidemiology Group, Centre for Geographic Medicine, Kenya and the Spatial Ecology & Epidemiology Group, University of Oxford, UK
The Kenya Ministry of Health, Division of Malaria Control Web site has useful information on malaria epidemiology and policies for Kenya
PMCID: PMC1949846  PMID: 17713981
24.  With good intentions: complexity in unsolicited informal support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. A qualitative study 
BMC Public Health  2011;11:686.
Understanding people's social lived experiences of chronic illness is fundamental to improving health service delivery and health outcomes, particularly in relation to self-management activity. In explorations of social lived experiences this paper uncovers the ways in which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with chronic illness experience informal unsolicited support from peers and family members.
Nineteen Aboriginal and Torres Islander participants were interviewed in the Serious and Continuing Illness Policy and Practice Study (SCIPPS). Participants were people with Type 2 diabetes (N = 17), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (N = 3) and/or chronic heart failure (N = 11) and family carers (N = 3). Participants were asked to describe their experience of having or caring for someone with chronic illness. Content and thematic analysis of in-depth semi-structured interviews was undertaken, assisted by QSR Nvivo8 software.
Participants reported receiving several forms of unsolicited support, including encouragement, practical suggestions for managing, nagging, growling, and surveillance. Additionally, participants had engaged in 'yarning', creating a 'yarn' space, the function of which was distinguished as another important form of unsolicited support. The implications of recognising these various support forms are discussed in relation to responses to unsolicited support as well as the needs of family carers in providing effective informal support.
Certain locations of responsibility are anxiety producing. Family carers must be supported in appropriate education so that they can provide both solicited and unsolicited support in effective ways. Such educational support would have the added benefit of helping to reduce carer anxieties about caring roles and responsibilities. Mainstream health services would benefit from fostering environments that encourage informal interactions that facilitate learning and support in a relaxed atmosphere.
PMCID: PMC3176222  PMID: 21888670
Aboriginal; Indigenous; chronic heart failure; chronic illness; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; diabetes; qualitative methods; self-management
25.  Living and dying with severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: multi-perspective longitudinal qualitative study 
Objectives To understand the perspectives of people with severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) as their illness progresses, and of their informal and professional carers, to inform provision of care for people living and dying with COPD.
Design Up to four serial qualitative interviews were conducted with each patient and nominated carer over 18 months. Interviews were transcribed and analysed both thematically and as narratives.
Participants 21 patients, and 13 informal carers (a family member, friend, or neighbour) and 18 professional carers (a key health or social care professional) nominated by the patients.
Setting Primary and secondary care in Lothian, Tayside, and Forth Valley, Scotland, during 2007-9.
Results Eleven patients died during the study period. Our final dataset comprised 92 interviews (23 conducted with patient and informal carer together). Severe symptoms that caused major disruption to normal life were described, often in terms implying acceptance of the situation as a “way of life” rather than an “illness.” Patients and their informal carers adapted to and accepted the debilitating symptoms of a lifelong condition. Professional carers’ familiarity with the patients’ condition, typically over many years, and prognostic uncertainty contributed to the difficulty of recognising and actively managing end stage disease. Overall, patients told a “chaos narrative” of their illness that was indistinguishable from their life story, with no clear beginning and an unanticipated end described in terms comparable with attitudes to death in a normal elderly population.
Conclusions Our findings challenge current assumptions underpinning provision of end of life care for people with COPD. The policy focus on identifying a time point for transition to palliative care has little resonance for people with COPD or their clinicians and is counter productive if it distracts from early phased introduction of supportive care. Careful assessment of possible supportive and palliative care needs should be triggered at key disease milestones along a lifetime journey with COPD, in particular after hospital admission for an exacerbation.
PMCID: PMC3025692  PMID: 21262897

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