Persisting stigma reduces the utilisation of HIV-related care and support services in Viet Nam

Duong Cong Thanh, Karen Marie Moland, Knut Fylkesnes
BMC Health Services Research 2012, 12: 428

BACKGROUND: Seeking and utilisation of HIV prevention, treatment, care, and support services for people living with HIV is often hampered by HIV-related stigma. The study aimed to explore the perceptions and experiences regarding treatment, care, and support amongst people living with HIV in Viet Nam, where the HIV epidemic is concentrated among injecting drug users, sex workers, and men who have sex with men.

METHODS: In-depth interviews and focus group discussions were conducted during September 2007 in 6 districts in Hai Phong with a very high HIV prevalence among injecting drug users. The information obtained was analysed and merged within topic areas. Illustrative quotes were selected.

RESULTS: Stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV in the community and healthcare settings was commonly reported, and substantially hampered the seeking and the utilisation of HIV-related services. The informants related the high level of stigma to the way the national HIV preventive campaigns played on fear, by employing a "scare tactic" mainly focusing on drug users and sex workers, who were defined as "social evils" in the anti-drug and anti-prostitution policy. There was a strong exclusion effect caused by the stigma, with serious implications, such as loss of job opportunities and isolation. The support and care provided by family members was experienced as vital for the spirit and hope for the future among people living with HIV.

CONCLUSIONS: A comprehensive care and support programme is needed. The very high levels of stigma experienced seem largely to have been created by an HIV preventive scare tactic closely linked to the "social evil" approach in the national policy on drug and prostitution. In order to reduce the stigma and create more effective interventions, this tactic will have to be replaced with approaches that create better legal and policy environments for drug users and sex workers.

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