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.

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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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