Background Much research explores the relationship between migration and HIV risk; elsewhere the focus is on how HIV affects household structure and viability. In India, rural-to-urban, circular migrants are targeted with prevention campaigns but little is known about the impact of HIV on livelihoods.
Aim To explore the structural and contextual influences on the life course of HIV-affected circular migrant families, focussing on long-term prognosis, and consider implications for programmes.
Methods In-depth interviews with HIV-positive patients at an antiretroviral therapy (ART) centre in northern India. Data were analysed using framework and thematic analysis.
Results 20 men and 13 women were interviewed. Short-term migration to urban areas secured an improved economic livelihood, but HIV diagnosis was often late following a prolonged period of privately-obtained symptomatic treatments. At eventual HIV diagnosis, most participants faced serious debt and physical degradation. They felt conflicted about future migration – their economic liabilities pushed them towards migrant work, but their poor health and strict treatment regime made them reluctant to leave home. Insecure job markets and discriminatory policies attenuated their employment choices while the opportunity costs of monthly ART centre visits and related medical care mounted up. The role reversal from primary earners and carers to needing care and financial support changed household organisation. Temporary care arrangements gave way to shifts in household composition, with gendered effects. Long term adherence to daily antiretroviral medication and the recommended healthy, regular meals could be compromised by the social and economic consequences of becoming positive.
Discussion Migration may increase HIV risk but following infection, HIV regulates future migration. It often increased the need to migrate again and forced some people to make choices that compromised their long-term health. Targeting migrants with prevention, testing and treatment programmes may fail to achieve desired outcomes without the simultaneous implementation of structural interventions.