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Resisting and challenging stigma in Uganda: the role of support groups of people living with HIV

Gitau Mburu, Mala Ram, Morten Skovdal, David Bitira, Ian Hodgson, Grace W Mwai, Christine Stegling, Janet Seeley


Introduction: Global scale up of antiretroviral therapy is changing the context of HIV-related stigma. However, stigma remains an ongoing concern in many countries. Groups of people living with HIV can contribute to the reduction of stigma. However, the pathways through which they do so are not well understood.

Methods: This paper utilizes data from a qualitative study exploring the impact of networked groups of people living with HIV in Jinja and Mbale districts of Uganda. Participants were people living with HIV (n=40), members of their households (n=10) and their health service providers (n=15). Data were collected via interviews and focus group discussions in 2010, and analyzed inductively to extract key themes related to the approaches and outcomes of the groups’ anti-stigma activities.

Results: Study participants reported that HIV stigma in their communities had declined as a result of the collective activities of groups of people living with HIV. However, they believed that stigma remained an ongoing challenge. Gender, family relationships, social and economic factors emerged as important drivers of stigma. Challenging stigma collectively transcended individual experiences and united people living with HIV in a process of social renegotiation to achieve change. Groups of people living with HIV provided peer support and improved the confidence of their members, which ultimately reduced self-stigma and improved their ability to deal with external stigma when it was encountered.

Conclusions: Antiretroviral therapy and group-based approaches in the delivery of HIV services are opening up new avenues for the collective participation of people living with HIV to challenge HIV stigma and act as agents of social change. Interventions for reducing HIV stigma should be expanded beyond those that aim to increase the resilience and coping mechanisms of individuals, to those that build the capacity of groups to collectively cope with and challenge HIV stigma. Such interventions should be gender sensitive and should respond to contextual social, economic and structural factors that drive stigma.

Keywords: HIV; stigma; Uganda; Africa.

(Published: 13 November 2013)

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Citation: Mburu G et al. Journal of the International AIDS Society 2013, 16(Suppl 2):18636 |

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Journal of the International AIDS Society | eISSN 1758-2652 | Editors-in-Chief: Susan Kippax, Kenneth Mayer and Papa Salif Sow 

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