Verbal and physical abuse and neglect as manifestations of HIV/AIDS stigma in five African countries

Priscilla S Dlamini, Thecla W Kohi, Leana R Uys, René Deliwe Phetlhu, Maureen L Chirwa, Joanne R Naidoo, William L Holzemer, Minrie Greeff, Lucy N Makoae
Public Health Nursing 2007, 24 (5): 389-99

OBJECTIVE: To explore the experience of HIV/AIDS-related stigma for people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWA) in Lesotho, Malawi, South Africa, Swaziland, and Tanzania.

DESIGN AND SAMPLE: Descriptive study using 43 focus groups (n=251 participants), which included male and female PLWA from both rural and urban areas and nurses working with PLWA.

METHODS: Participants were asked to relate incidents of HIV/AIDS-related stigma that they had experienced or observed. Focus group discussions were taped, and data were content analyzed to identify examples of abuse (verbal and physical abuse and neglect) related to HIV/AIDS stigma. Data analysis also explored targets of abuse, abusers, and consequences of abuse.

RESULTS: Participant reports documented extensive verbal and physical abuse and neglect or negating (disallowing of access to services and opportunities) experienced by PLWA and observed by nurses caring for them, and identified negative consequences experienced by PLWA whose HIV-positive status was disclosed to family, friends, or community members.

CONCLUSIONS: Health care workers who encourage PLWA to disclose their HIV status must carefully consider the implications of encouraging disclosure in an environment with high levels of stigma, and must recognize the real possibility that PLWA may experience serious verbal and physical abuse as a consequence of disclosure.

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