Experiences and perceptions of HIV related stigma: a case study of young people living with HIV in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe

Sibanda, Mgcini
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HIV related stigma is a serious public health problem. It continues to be experienced across the globe, impeding access to and scale-up of HIV prevention, treatment, care and support programmes. The fear of stigmatization often prevents young people from getting tested for HIV, disclosing their status, and accessing treatment and care. The purpose of the study was to explore and describe the HIV related stigma experiences and perceptions of young people living with HIV (YPLHIV) (aged 18-24) in peer support groups in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. The three specific objectives were to identify the types of HIV related stigma experienced by young people living with HIV in peer support groups in Bulawayo; to explore the perceptions of young people living with HIV in peer support groups; and, to compare the HIV related stigma experienced by young males and females living with HIV in the peer support groups. The study is significant because the current HIV/AIDS programmes on stigma and discrimination for young people in Zimbabwe are not informed by empirical evidence. The study used an exploratory cross sectional qualitative research design, using in-depth interviews and focus groups The following main themes emerged from thematic analysis of 42 YPLHIV narratives were: (1) How participants learn about their HIV status; (2) How the participants perceived their health status; (3) The fear of being stigmatized (4) The perceived main perpetrators of HIV stigma and how the participants reacted to perceived HIV related stigmatization, (5) The support systems available for the YLPHIV, (6) the social spaces where HIV related stigma and discrimination occurs HIV status and acts of discrimination. YPLHIV experienced both perceived stigma (the fear of stigmatization or discrimination) and enacted stigma (actual experiences of negative behaviors, such as discrimination). The female participants felt that they were more stigmatized than young men living with HIV. We recommend the development and implementation of evidence-based HIV related stigma and discrimination gender-focussed training programmes as well as awareness campaigns targeting traditional and religious leaders. The enactment and implementation of policies are needed to ensure a more enabling environment for YPLHIV to feel safe to disclose their status and to access post HIV services without fear of stigmatization and discrimination.
A Research Report submitted to the School of Public Health the Faculty of Health Sciences University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Masters degree in Public Health November 2016