Prevalence and drivers of HIV stigma among health providers in urban India: implications for interventions

Maria L Ekstrand, Jayashree Ramakrishna, Shalini Bharat, Elsa Heylen
Journal of the International AIDS Society 2013, 16 (3): 18717

INTRODUCTION: HIV stigma inflicts hardship and suffering on people living with HIV (PLHIV) and interferes with both prevention and treatment efforts. Health professionals are often named by PLHIV as an important source of stigma. This study was designed to examine rates and drivers of stigma and discrimination among doctors, nurses and ward staff in different urban healthcare settings in high HIV prevalence states in India.

METHODS: This cross-sectional study enrolled 305 doctors, 369 nurses and 346 ward staff in both governmental and non-governmental healthcare settings in Mumbai and Bengaluru, India. The approximately one-hour long interviews focused on knowledge related to HIV transmission, personal and professional experiences with PLHIV, instrumental and symbolic stigma, endorsement of coercive policies, and intent to discriminate in professional and personal situations that involve high and low risk of fluid exposure.

RESULTS: High levels of stigma were reported by all groups. This included a willingness to prohibit female PLHIV from having children (55 to 80%), endorsement of mandatory testing for female sex workers (94 to 97%) and surgery patients (90 to 99%), and stating that people who acquired HIV through sex or drugs "got what they deserved" (50 to 83%). In addition, 89% of doctors, 88% of nurses and 73% of ward staff stated that they would discriminate against PLHIV in professional situations that involved high likelihood of fluid exposure, and 57% doctors, 40% nurses and 71% ward staff stated that they would do so in low-risk situations as well. Significant and modifiable drivers of stigma and discrimination included having less frequent contact with PLHIV, and a greater number of transmission misconceptions, blame, instrumental and symbolic stigma. Participants in all three groups reported high rates of endorsement of coercive measures and intent to discriminate against PLHIV. Stigma and discrimination were associated with multiple modifiable drivers, which are consistent with previous research, and which need to be targeted in future interventions.

CONCLUSIONS: Stigma reduction intervention programmes targeting healthcare providers in urban India need to address fear of transmission, improve universal precaution skills, and involve PLHIV at all stages of the intervention to reduce symbolic stigma and ensure that relevant patient interaction skills are taught.

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