Survey of ethical dilemmas facing intensivists in South Africa in the admission of patients with HIV infection requiring intensive care

Kantharuben Naidoo, Jerome Amir Singh, Umesh Gangaram Lalloo


Background. Maturing of the burgeoning HIV epidemic in South Africa has resulted in an increased demand for intensive care.

Objectives. To investigate the influence of ethical dilemmas facing South African intensivists on decisions about access to intensive care for patients with HIV infection in resource-limited settings.

Methods. A cross-sectional, descriptive, quantitative, analytical, anonymous attitudes-and-perception questionnaire survey of 90 intensivists. The main outcome measure was the rating of factors influencing decisions on admission to intensive care and responses to 5 hypothetical clinical scenarios.

Results. The number of intensivists who considered the prognosis of the acute disease and of the underlying disease to be most important was 87.9% (n=74). Most (71.6%; n=63) intensivists cited availability of an intensive care unit (ICU) bed as influencing the decision to admit. Intensivists comprising 26.8% (n=22) of the total group rated as probably important or least important the ‘resources available’; ‘bed used to the prejudice of another patient’ was stated by 16.4% (n=14); and ‘policy of the intensive care unit’ by 17% (n=14). Nearly two-thirds (65.9%; n=58) would respect an informed refusal of treatment. A similar number would comply with a written ‘Do not resuscitate’ (DNR) order. In patients with no real chance of recovering a meaningful life, 81.6% (n=71) of intensivists would withhold sophisticated therapy (e.g. not start mechanical ventilation or dialysis etc.) and 75.9% (n=63) would withdraw sophisticated therapy (e.g. discontinue mechanical ventilation, dialysis etc.).

Conclusions. A combination of factors was identified as influencing the decision to admit patients to intensive care. Prognosis and disease status were identified as the main factors influencing admission. Patients with HIV/AIDS were not discriminated against in admission to intensive care.

Authors' affiliations

Kantharuben Naidoo, Department of Family Medicine, School of Nursing and Public Health, Nelson R Mandela College of Medicine, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa

Jerome Amir Singh, Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA), Doris Dukes Medical Centre Research Institute and Nelson R Mandela College of Medicine, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa

Umesh Gangaram Lalloo, Department of Pulmonology and Critical Care, School of Clinical Medicine, Nelson R Mandela College of Medicine, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa

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Ethical Dilemmas;critical care specialists; HIV/AIDS

Cite this article

Southern African Journal of Critical Care 2013;29(2):28-32. DOI:10.7196/SAJCC.153

Article History

Date submitted: 2012-12-04
Date published: 2013-06-20

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