Articles tagged as "Elimination of stigma"

Short and sweet? Do study participants prefer shorter or longer consent forms? Do they understand the contents?

Editor’s notes: As described above in the HOLA en Grupos study, engagement and partnership is vital if HIV research is to produce useful and relevant results.  The ethics of research involving human subjects continues to evolve but the key principles laid out by Beauchamp and Childress in 1989 remain central.  The principles of autonomy, non-maleficence, beneficence, and justice, have been extremely influential in the field of medical ethics, and are fundamental for understanding the current approach to ethical assessment in health care.

Autonomy implies that research participants should be able to consent willingly to join a research study and a key part of that informed consent process is usually a written “consent form” that is signed by the participant.  However, a major challenge is often to ensure that on the one hand all relevant information about possible benefits and harms is included in the information and on the other hand that the consent process is manageable and appropriate for the participant.

In the largest study of its kind to date, Grady and colleagues embedded a randomized trial within the larger randomized START trial (comparing immediate with deferred start of antiretroviral medicines in people with early HIV infection).  Around 4000 participants in START were allocated according to their 154 research sites, which were randomly assigned to the original, lengthy and somewhat complicated consent form, or to a simplified, shorter consent form with much more attention paid to ease of comprehension and readability.  The shorter form was still around 1800 words long (compared to the almost 6000 of the original) and was only a little easier to read, because the sponsors of the study needed to be certain that all the information demanded by current guidelines was included.

Surprisingly, there was no overall difference in either the primary outcome (an understanding that participants’ treatment would be randomly allocated) or in overall comprehension of aspects of the study.  In other words, the authors did NOT find the advantages that they were expecting from the modified consent form.

However, various clear trends emerge from the data that are relevant to future research too.  Those with less education were clearly less able to understand the randomization approach.  73% of the 1240 participants who had not attended high school compared to more than 90% of the 935 who had completed a university degree or postgraduate education answered the primary question on randomization correctly. The START study team were diligent in explaining the study to potential participants before presenting the informed consent form, with around a half of participants reporting more than an hour of explanation prior to being asked for consent, and more than 80% of sites reporting that participants understood the study “very well” prior to the consent process.  There was also a clear trend for participants from sites that had been involved in previous HIV research to understand the process better (rising from 69% in those with no previous HIV studies to 85% in those with more than 10).

Increasingly HIV prevention researchers are aiming to work with populations that have high ongoing incidence of HIV.  In a world where treatment is increasingly widespread and overall numbers of infections have fallen somewhat, this means that researchers will tend to be working with more and more disadvantaged populations where many participants may be less well educated and less familiar with research.  This important study makes it clear that the ethical principle of autonomy requires an ongoing process that goes far beyond the choice of words in a consent form.  Research must build trust between researchers and participants.  The research team should explain carefully and in appropriate ways what is involved in the study and what options participants have. Study teams should build a governance process into the research so that participants can have confidence that any risks of the research, both for them as individuals, but also often for the community or group to which they belong, are monitored and mitigated.  In this way potentially vulnerable individuals may still be recruited into important research projects and contribute to the ways in which science can end the epidemic.

A randomized trial comparing concise and standard consent forms in the START trial.

Grady C, Touloumi G, Walker AS, Smolskis M, Sharma S, Babiker AG, Pantazis N, Tavel J, Florence E, Sanchez A, Hudson F, Papadopoulos A, Emanuel E, Clewett M, Munroe D, Denning E; INSIGHT START Informed Consent substudy Group PLoS One. 2017 Apr 26;12(4):e0172607. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0172607. eCollection 2017.

Background: Improving the effectiveness and efficiency of research informed consent is a high priority. Some express concern about longer, more complex, written consent forms creating barriers to participant understanding. A recent meta-analysis concluded that randomized comparisons were needed.

Methods: We conducted a cluster-randomized non-inferiority comparison of a standard versus concise consent form within a multinational trial studying the timing of starting antiretroviral therapy in HIV+ adults (START). Interested sites were randomized to standard or concise consent forms for all individuals signing START consent. Participants completed a survey measuring comprehension of study information and satisfaction with the consent process. Site personnel reported usual site consent practices. The primary outcome was comprehension of the purpose of randomization (pre-specified 7.5% non-inferiority margin).

Results: 77 sites (2429 participants) were randomly allocated to use standard consent and 77 sites (2000 participants) concise consent, for an evaluable cohort of 4229. Site and participant characteristics were similar for the two groups. The concise consent was non-inferior to the standard consent on comprehension of randomization (80.2% versus 82%, site adjusted difference: 0.75% (95% CI -3.8%, +5.2%)); and the two groups did not differ significantly on total comprehension score, satisfaction, or voluntariness (p>0.1). Certain independent factors, such as education, influenced comprehension and satisfaction but not differences between consent groups.

Conclusions: An easier to read, more concise consent form neither hindered nor improved comprehension of study information nor satisfaction with the consent process among a large number of participants. This supports continued efforts to make consent forms more efficient.

Trial registration: Informed consent substudy was registered as part of START study in clinicaltrials.gov #NCT00867048, and EudraCT # 2008-006439-12.

Abstract Full-text [free] access 

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Improving education about HIV transmission among health workers could reduce stigmatizing attitudes

Another generation of stigma? Assessing healthcare student perceptions of HIV-positive patients in Mwanza, Tanzania.

Aggarwal S, Lee DH, Minteer WB, Fenning RT, Raja SK, Bernstein ME, Raman KR, Denny SP, Patel PA, Lieber M, Farfel AO, Diamond CA. AIDS Patient Care STDS. 2017 Feb;31(2):87-95. doi: 10.1089/apc.2016.0175. Epub 2017 Jan 18.

HIV-related stigma remains a persistent global health concern among people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWA) in developing nations. The literature is lacking in studies about healthcare students' perceptions of PLWA. This study is the first effort to understand stigmatizing attitudes toward HIV-positive patients by healthcare students in Mwanza, Tanzania, not just those who will be directly treating patients but also those who will be indirectly involved through nonclinical roles, such as handling patient specimens and private health information. A total of 208 students were drawn from Clinical Medicine, Laboratory Sciences, Health Records and Information Management, and Community Health classes at the Tandabui Institute of Health Sciences and Technology for a voluntary survey that assessed stigmatizing beliefs toward PLWA. Students generally obtained high scores on the overall survey instrument, pointing to low stigmatizing beliefs toward PLWA and an overall willingness to treat PLWA with the same standard of care as other patients. However, there are gaps in knowledge that exist among students, such as a comprehensive understanding of all routes of HIV infection. The study also suggests that students who interact with patients as part of their training are less likely to exhibit stigmatizing beliefs toward PLWA. A comprehensive course in HIV infection, one that includes classroom sessions focused on the epidemiology and routes of transmission as well as clinical opportunities to directly interact with PLWA-perhaps through teaching sessions led by PLWA-may allow for significant reductions in stigma toward such patients and improve clinical outcomes for PLWA around the world.

Abstract access 

Editor’s notes: This paper reports on a survey of students who were undergoing training in Clinical Medicine, Laboratory Sciences, Health Records and Information Management, Nursing, and Community Health in Mwanza, Tanzania. The survey aimed to explore attitudes about people living with HIV. The authors report that their results illustrate low stigmatizing beliefs towards people living with HIV. However, around a quarter believed that HIV is a punishment for bad behaviour. A third believed that people who acquired HIV from drug use or sex deserved to become infected. Further to this, nearly three quarters believed that individuals who were HIV positive could have avoided infection if they wanted to. A quarter believed that people living with HIV have been promiscuous. There were no differences in response by gender but students under 24 were more likely to have negative attitudes. The authors suggest that this could be due to lower education levels than the older students, although they had not measured this. Students studying Clinical Medicine were less likely to have negative attitudes. On a positive note the students reported that they would treat people living with HIV as equal with other people.

The students displayed some lack of knowledge about routes of HIV infection beyond sex and drug use, especially mother-to-child HIV transmission. The authors suggest that better education in this area may reduce the negative attitudes about people living with HIV, reported by many of the students. Overall, this survey reveals some gaps in education, that if addressed could reduce stigma by health workers against people living with HIV.

Africa
United Republic of Tanzania
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Disbelief, stigma, ‘strong blood’ and inevitability affect seroconversion among HIV serodiscordant couples in Uganda

'People say that we are already dead much as we can still walk': a qualitative investigation of community and couples' understanding of HIV serodiscordance in rural Uganda.

Kim J, Nanfuka M, Moore D, Shafic M, Nyonyitono M, Birungi J, Galenda F, King R. BMC Infect Dis. 2016 Nov 10;16(1):665.

Background: Stable, co-habiting HIV serodiscordant couples are a key population in terms of heterosexual transmission in sub-Saharan Africa. Despite the wide availability of antiretroviral treatment and HIV educational programs, heterosexual transmission continues to drive the HIV epidemic in Africa. To investigate some of the factors involved in transmission or maintenance of serodiscordant status, we designed a study to examine participants' understanding of HIV serodiscordance and the implications this posed for their HIV prevention practices.

Methods: In-depth interviews were conducted with 28 serodiscordant couples enrolled in a treatment-as-prevention study in Jinja, Uganda. Participants were asked questions regarding sexual behaviour, beliefs in treatment and prevention, participants' and communities' understanding and context around HIV serodiscordance. Qualitative framework analysis capturing several main themes was carried out by a team of four members, and was cross-checked for consistency.

Results: It was found that most couples had difficulty explaining the phenomenon of serodiscordance and tended to be confused regarding prevention. Many individuals still held beliefs in pseudoscientific explanations for HIV susceptibility such as blood type and blood "strength". The participants' trust of treatment and medical services were well established. However, the communities' views of both serodiscordance and treatment were more pessimistic and wrought with mistrust. Stigmatization of serodiscordance and HIV-positive status were reported frequently.

Conclusions: The results indicate that despite years of treatment and prevention methods being available, stigmatization and mistrust persist in the communities of HIV-affected individuals and may directly contribute to new cases and seroconversion. We suggest that to optimize the effects of HIV treatment and prevention, clear education and support of such methods are sorely needed in sub-Saharan African communities.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access 

Editor’s notes: Expanded access to antiretroviral treatment has significantly reduced HIV-associated mortality. It has also contributed to reduced HIV incidence including in the most highly affected region of sub-Saharan Africa. Most new infections in this region are due to heterosexual transmission, with transmission within HIV serodiscordant couples in marriage or cohabitation thought to account for most new infections. This qualitative study explores the perceptions of members of HIV serodiscordant couples in terms of their understanding of serodiscordance or eventual seroconversion. The authors also explore how this understanding affects their sexual behaviour and adherence to antiretroviral therapy (for people living with HIV).

This sub-study was part of the Highly Active Antiretroviral therapy as Prevention (HAARP) study of treatment as prevention (TasP) among serodiscordant couples. In-depth interviews were conducted between June 2013 and August 2014.  All couples were initially serodiscordant upon recruitment into treatment. Over the course of the study, 14 HIV seronegative participants seroconverted. These individuals and their partners were selected for the sub-study and gender-matched to control subjects who were HIV seropositive participants whose partners did not seroconvert during the study.

The results of the HPTN 052 trial demonstrated a 96% reduction in HIV transmission within serodisordant couples associated with early use of antiretroviral therapy.  In this rural Ugandan setting, the phenomenon of serodiscordance remains poorly understood by people affected by it and the communities surrounding them. Despite extensive education campaigns and communication about HIV prevention various factors affect understanding of serodiscordance. Medication, confusion, mistrust, stigma, and a resulting sense of inevitability may negatively affect couples’ understanding and belief in the phenomenon of serodiscordance. For a variety of reasons, some serodisordant couples also report lack of consistent condom use. This is of particular concern where abstinence has proved to be an unachievable option for many couples. Improved education regarding serodiscordance and ART treatment will be required to address heterosexual transmission and ensure the maintenance of serodiscordance in affected couples.

Africa
Uganda
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‘Scared of going there’ – barriers to HIV treatment for pregnant women in Tanzania

Stigma, facility constraints, and personal disbelief: why women disengage from HIV care during and after pregnancy in Morogoro region, Tanzania.

McMahon SA, Kennedy CE, Winch PJ, Kombe M, Killewo J, Kilewo C. AIDS Behav. 2016 Aug 17. [Epub ahead of print]

Millions of children are living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa, and the primary mode of these childhood infections is mother-to-child transmission. While existing interventions can virtually eliminate such transmission, in low- and middle-income settings, only 63% of pregnant women living with HIV accessed medicines necessary to prevent transmission. In Tanzania, HIV prevalence among pregnant women is 3.2%. Understanding why HIV-positive women disengage from care during and after pregnancy can inform efforts to reduce the impact of HIV on mothers and young children. Informed by the tenets of Grounded Theory, we conducted qualitative interviews with 40 seropositive postpartum women who had disengaged from care to prevent mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT). Nearly all women described antiretroviral treatment (ART) as ultimately beneficial but effectively inaccessible given concerns related to stigma. Many women also described how their feelings of health and vitality coupled with concerns about side effects underscored a desire to forgo ART until they deemed it immediately necessary. Relatively fewer women described not knowing or forgetting that they needed to continue their treatment regimens. We present a theory of PMTCT disengagement outlining primary and ancillary barriers. This study is among the first to examine disengagement by interviewing women who had actually discontinued care. We urge that a combination of intervention approaches such as mother-to-mother support groups, electronic medical records with same-day tracing, task shifting, and mobile technology be adapted, implemented, and evaluated within the Tanzanian setting.

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Editor’s notes: The push for universal access to antiretroviral therapy for everyone living with HIV faces many obstacles.  In many parts of the world, pregnant women are offered HIV testing as a part of antenatal care. Treatment is then offered if a woman is found to be HIV-positive. Many women accept this care, having been provided with the information that this is beneficial for their baby and also themselves. Some women who accept treatment take themselves out of care. This can be detrimental not only for the HIV status of their baby, but also for their general antenatal care. As the authors of this paper note, there is a growing body of literature that describes losses to care from the provider perspective. There are also a number of papers about women who have accepted care, who describe why others refuse treatment.  It is unusual to find detailed findings from interviews with women who have dropped out of or refused HIV treatment while pregnant. While the findings are not particularly surprising, the authors of this paper have captured the individual reasons why the 40 women interviewed in their study, left or never entered care. The reasons given underline the challenge of ‘prompt treatment’. Many women were not ready for immediate treatment.  Fears of the clinic layout ‘betraying’ a woman’s status are described. So too are the negative attitudes of health providers as well as family and community members. The authors provide an excellent example of how good qualitative research, conducted and analysed in an exemplary manner, offers valuable insights. This paper provides valuable information on an often hidden minority of women who are not ready or able ‘to test and treat’.

Africa
United Republic of Tanzania
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Young people living with HIV, stigma and its mental health effects

HIV-related stigma, shame, and avoidant coping: risk factors for internalizing symptoms among youth living with HIV?

Bennett DS, Hersh J, Herres J, Foster J. Child Psychiatry Hum Dev. 2016 Aug;47(4):657-64. doi: 10.1007/s10578-015-0599-y.

Youth living with HIV (YLH) are at elevated risk of internalizing symptoms, although there is substantial individual variability in adjustment. We examined perceived HIV-related stigma, shame-proneness, and avoidant coping as risk factors of internalizing symptoms among YLH. Participants (N = 88; ages 12-24) completed self-report measures of these potential risk factors and three domains of internalizing symptoms (depressive, anxiety, and PTSD) during a regularly scheduled HIV clinic visit. Hierarchical regressions were conducted for each internalizing symptoms domain, examining the effects of age, gender, and maternal education (step 1), HIV-related stigma (step 2), shame- and guilt-proneness (step 3), and avoidant coping (step 4). HIV-related stigma, shame-proneness, and avoidant coping were each correlated with greater depressive, anxiety, and PTSD symptoms. Specificity was observed in that shame-proneness, but not guilt-proneness, was associated with greater internalizing symptoms. In multivariable analyses, HIV-related stigma and shame-proneness were each related to greater depressive and PTSD symptoms. Controlling for the effects of HIV-related stigma and shame-proneness, avoidant coping was associated with PTSD symptoms. The current findings highlight the potential importance of HIV-related stigma, shame, and avoidant coping on the adjustment of YLH, as interventions addressing these risk factors could lead to decreased internalizing symptoms among YLH.

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Editor’s notes: This study examined the relationship between stigma, shame and avoidant coping strategies and the development of internalizing symptoms, such as anxiety and depression, in young people living with HIV. It is based on researcher-administered questionnaires with 88 young people living with HIV attending an HIV clinic in Philadelphia, USA. The questionnaire included multiple scales to assess. These included young people’s self-reported issues with HIV stigma; tendency to feel shame; tendency to feel guilt; avoidant coping strategies; depressive symptoms; anxiety symptoms; and post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms. Multiple statistical analyses were performed, controlling for the effects of gender, age and maternal education. The study found that HIV-associated stigma, shame and avoidant strategies are risk-factors for the development of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder in young people living with HIV. The study provides evidence for the development of psychosocial support that focuses on shame reduction as a way to mediate the impact of stigma on mental health outcomes for young people living with HIV.

Northern America
United States of America
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The negative health impacts of HIV-associated stigma

Examining the associations between HIV-related stigma and health outcomes in people living with HIV/AIDS: a series of meta-analyses.

Rueda S, Mitra S, Chen S, Gogolishvili D, Globerman J, Chambers L, Wilson M, Logie CH, Shi Q, Morassaei S, Rourke SB. BMJ Open. 2016 Jul 13;6(7):e011453. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2016-011453.

Objective: To conduct a systematic review and series of meta-analyses on the association between HIV-related stigma and health among people living with HIV.

Data sources: A structured search was conducted on 6 electronic databases for journal articles reporting associations between HIV-related stigma and health-related outcomes published between 1996 and 2013.

Study eligibility criteria: Controlled studies, cohort studies, case-control studies and cross-sectional studies in people living with HIV were considered for inclusion.

Outcome measures: Mental health (depressive symptoms, emotional and mental distress, anxiety), quality of life, physical health, social support, adherence to antiretroviral therapy, access to and usage of health/social services and risk behaviours.

Results: 64 studies were included in our meta-analyses. We found significant associations between HIV-related stigma and higher rates of depression, lower social support and lower levels of adherence to antiretroviral medications and access to and usage of health and social services. Weaker relationships were observed between HIV-related stigma and anxiety, quality of life, physical health, emotional and mental distress and sexual risk practices. While risk of bias assessments revealed overall good quality related to how HIV stigma and health outcomes were measured on the included studies, high risk of bias among individual studies was observed in terms of appropriate control for potential confounders. Additional research should focus on elucidating the mechanisms behind the negative relationship between stigma and health to better inform interventions to reduce the impact of stigma on the health and well-being of people with HIV.

Conclusions: This systematic review and series of meta-analyses support the notion that HIV-related stigma has a detrimental impact on a variety of health-related outcomes in people with HIV. This review can inform the development of multifaceted, intersectoral interventions to reduce the impact of HIV-related stigma on the health and well-being of people living with HIV.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access 

Editor’s notes: There is a growing body of research documenting the negative impact of stigma and discrimination on the health of people living with HIV. Stigma is associated with poorer mental health, including emotional distress, depression and reduced psychological functioning. It has also been linked to intermediate health outcomes such as seeking healthcare and adherence to antiretroviral therapy. This paper reports a comprehensive systematic review and meta-analyses summarising the published evidence on the relationship between HIV-associated stigma and a wide range of health outcomes, including intermediate health outcomes. Results illustrate associations between HIV-associated stigma and depressive symptoms, lower levels of social support, ART adherence and use of health services. However, the majority of studies in the review were cross-sectional and longitudinal studies are necessary to explore the complex relationship between these factors, including the role of moderating factors, such as coping strategies. In addition, more research is necessary from low- and middle-income countries given that much of the published research is from North America. Further, there is also a need to better understand the intersection of HIV-associated stigma with other types of stigma experienced by people living with HIV, including homophobia, racism and gender discrimination. 

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Perceived stigma may lead to increased experienced stigma among people living with HIV

A transactional approach to relationships over time between perceived HIV stigma and the psychological and physical well-being of people with HIV.

Miller CT, Solomon SE, Varni SE, Hodge JJ, Knapp FA, Bunn JY. Soc Sci Med. 2016 Jun 16;162:97-105. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2016.06.025. [Epub ahead of print]

Rationale: Cross-sectional studies demonstrate that perceived discrimination is related to the psychological and physical well-being of stigmatized people. The theoretical and empirical foci of most of this research is on how racial discrimination undermines well-being. The present study takes a transactional approach to examine people with HIV, a potentially concealable stigma.

Hypothesis: The transactional approach posits that even as discrimination adversely affects the psychological well-being of people with HIV, psychological distress also makes them more sensitive to perceiving that they may be or have been stigmatized, and may increase the chances that other people actually do stigmatize them.

Methods: This hypothesis was tested in a longitudinal study in which 216 New England residents with HIV were recruited to complete measures of perceived HIV stigma and well-being across three time points, approximately 90 days apart. This study also expanded on past research by assessing anticipated and internalized stigma as well as perceived discrimination.

Results: Results indicated that all of these aspects of HIV stigma prospectively predicted psychological distress, thriving, and physical well-being. Equally important, psychological distress and thriving also prospectively predicted all three aspects of HIV stigma, but physical well-being did not.

Conclusion: These findings suggest that people with HIV are ensnared in a cycle in which experiences of stigma and reduced psychological well-being mutually reinforce each other.

Abstract access

Editor’s notes: Stigma can act as a barrier to the delivery and uptake of HIV care. This study investigated the transactional approach to understanding stigma. The authors sought to determine whether psychological stress due to perceptions of discrimination causes people living with HIV to be more sensitive to perceiving stigma. Then in turn whether this makes it more likely that they will be stigmatized. The authors examined data from a longitudinal study of 216 participants in New England in the United States. The study was embedded within a larger study protocol that sought to answer a broad range of research questions. Participants responded to a questionnaire which asked questions about participants’ perceived stigma based on the HIV Stigma Scale developed by Berger and colleagues in 2001. The authors used three subscales to measure enacted, anticipated, and internalized stigma. Participants responded to questions on a 5-point subscale of strongly disagree (scored as 1) to strongly agree (scored as 5) to questions about the three different types of stigma. The authors analysed associations between perceived, internalized, and experienced stigma. The authors concluded that understanding the transactional relationship between HIV-associated stigma and psychological stress is important for developing and implementing effective HIV-associated stigma programmes. Perceptions of stigma may lead to increases in perceived and experienced stigma among people living with HIV. This study suggests that future programmes that seek to address HIV-associated stigma should incorporate an understanding of the transactional relationship between psychological stress and perceived and experienced stigma.

Northern America
United States of America
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The right kind of sex

The feminine ideal and transactional sex: navigating respectability and risk in Swaziland.

Fielding-Miller R, Dunkle KL, Jama-Shai N, Windle M, Hadley C, Cooper HL. Soc Sci Med. 2016 Apr 7;158:24-33. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2016.04.005. [Epub ahead of print]

Women who engage in transactional sex are not only at increased risk of HIV and intimate partner violence, but also face social risks including gossip and ostracism. These social and physical risks may be dependent on both what a woman expects and needs from her partner and how her community perceives the relationship. Gender theory suggests that some of these social risks may hinge on whether or not a woman's relationship threatens dominant masculinity. We conducted a qualitative study in Swaziland from September 2013 to October 2014 to explore transactional sex and respectable femininity through the lens of hegemonic gender theory. Using cultural consensus modeling, we identified cultural models of transactional sex and conducted 16 in-depth interviews with model key informants and 3 focus group discussions, for a total of 41 participants. We identified 4 main models of transactional relationships: One typified by marriage and high social respectability, a second in which women aspire towards marriage, a third particular to University students, and a fourth "sugar daddy" model. Women in all models expected and received significant financial support from their male partners. However, women in less respectable relationships risked social censure and stigma if they were discovered, in part because aspects of their relationship threatened hegemonic masculinity. Conversely, women who received male support in respectable relationships had to carefully select HIV risk reduction strategies that did not threaten their relationship and associated social status. Research and programming efforts typically focus only on the less socially respectable forms of transactional sex. This risks reinforcing stigma for women in relationships that are already considered socially unacceptable while ignoring the unique HIV risks faced by women in more respectable relationships.

Abstract access

Editor’s notes: Adolescent girls and young women are at a disproportionate risk of HIV infection when compared to their male counterparts. Transactional sex is associated with gendered HIV vulnerability in sub-Saharan Africa and is also associated with intimate partner violence. While economic exchange is present in many relationships, adolescent girls and young women are required to navigate a line between acceptable and unacceptable economic dependence. This line is further complicated by the fact that in much of the world, the notion of ‘men as providers’ is considered the norm. 

The findings illustrate, as with previous research, that women’s economic dependence in relationships was seen to be a risk. So too was social pressure. Women whose relationships manifested an emphasised femininity used health protection strategies that did not jeopardise their relationship (for example always being sexually available) so as to maintain their social and economic stability. Health protection strategies of women, whose relationship was deemed less acceptable, were more mixed.  They may have been less able to negotiate condom use or sexual encounters if they were financially dependent on their partners. But they may also have been more willing to leave a partner or demand condom use. Women who were ‘too independent’ were condemned and stigmatised by community members because of their threat to male dominance.  Programmes designed to reduce risk associated with transactional sex may have greater impact if they focus on the power dynamics created by gender norms. This may be more effective than focusing on the exchange of gifts or money within a relationship. It is important to pay careful attention to local understandings and interpretation of women’s financial, sexual and romantic obligations. We also need to understand women’s motivations for entering or remaining in sexual relationships.

Africa
Swaziland
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