Knowledge and attitudes of hospital-based physicians and trainees about HIV infection in the United States, Canada, India, and Thailand

P Brachman, P Kozarsky, M Cetron, M S Jacob, B Boonitt, J Wongsrichanalai, J S Keystone
Archives of Internal Medicine 1996 April 8, 156 (7): 761-6

OBJECTIVE: To examine the attitudes and knowledge of health care professionals regarding human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection in countries with a varying prevalence of HIV infection to assist in the development of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) educational programs.

DESIGN: Anonymous questionnaire with four sections: demographics, attitudes, knowledge, and an open-ended question investigating feelings about the potential impact that HIV infection may have on respondents' practices.

PARTICIPANTS: Final-year medical students, house staff, and attending physicians at teaching hospitals in India, Thailand, Canada, and the United States.

RESULTS: From January to October 1992, 819 health care professionals completed the questionnaire: 340 from India, 196 from Canada, 155 from the United States, and 128 from Thailand. The percentage of respondents who had previous contact with patients with HIV/AIDS varied from 30% to 98%; it was lowest in India, followed by Thailand and then Canada, and highest in the United States. Percentages of respondents uncomfortable performing a physical examination on a patient with HIV/AIDS were 24%, 25%, 9%, and 4%, respectively. Mean HIV/AIDS knowledge scores were 83%, 84%, 92%, and 93%, respectively. Most respondents correctly identified modes of transmission of HIV infection. Only 67% of Indian health care professionals understood the concept of a false-negative screening serologic test, compared with 98% of Canadian health care professionals. In Canada and the United States, only 78% and 76%, respectively, understood the concept of a false-positive screening serologic test. Awareness of an asymptomatic stage of HIV infection ranged from 32% in India to 74% in Canada. Despite their concerns of becoming infected, health care professionals in countries with a lower prevalence of HIV infection reported a strong ethical duty to care for these patients.

CONCLUSIONS: Level of comfort in caring for HIV-infected patients and HIV/AIDS knowledge scores varied directly with the amount of previous contact with these patients. Disturbing numbers of health care professionals from all four countries did not understand the potential problems of the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay serologic test and a significant percentage were unaware of the asymptomatic stage of HIV infection. There is a universal need for increased education of health care professionals about HIV infection and AIDS.

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