Experiences of stigma among women living with HIV attending sexual and reproductive health services in Kenya: A qualitative study

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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Background: Researchers have widely documented the pervasiveness of HIV stigma and discrimination, and its impact on people living with HIV. Only a few studies, however, have analysed the perceptions of women living with HIV accessing sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services. This study explores the experiences of stigma of HIV-positive clients attending family planning and post-natal services and implications for service use and antiretroviral therapy (ART) adherence. Our aim was to gain a better understanding of the impact of various dimensions of stigma on service use and ART adherence among HIV clients in order to inform the response of integrated SRH services. Methods: In-depth interviews were conducted with 48 women living with HIV attending SRH services in two districts in Kenya. Data were coded using Nvivo 8 and analysed using a thematic analysis approach. Results: Findings show that many women living with HIV report high levels of anticipated stigma, resulting in a desire to hide their status from family and friends for fear of being discriminated against. Many women feared desertion following disclosure of their positive status to partners. Consequently some women preferred to hide their status and adhere to HIV treatment in secret. However, the majority of study participants attending postnatal care (PNC) services also revealed that anticipated stigma does not adversely affect their HIV drug uptake and ART adherence, as their drive to live outweighs their fear of stigma. Our findings also seem to suggest a preference for specialist HIV services by some family planning (FP) clients because of better confidentiality and reduced opportunities for unwanted disclosure that could lead to stigma. Conclusions: The findings highlight that anticipated stigma leading to low disclosure is widespread and sometimes reinforced by health providers' actions and facility layout (contributing to enacted stigma). However, the motivation to stay healthy and look after the children appears in many cases to override fears of stigma related to ART adherence in our client-based sample.






Assessing the Benefits of Integrated HIV and Reproductive Health Services: The Integra Initiative