'We keep her status to ourselves': experiences of stigma and discrimination among HIV-discordant couples in South Africa, Tanzania and Ukraine

SOURCE: Sahara J: Journal of Social Aspects of HIV/AIDS
OUTPUT TYPE: Journal Article
TITLE AUTHOR(S): L.C.Rispel, A.Cloete, C.A.Metcalf
DEPARTMENT: Public Health, Societies and Belonging (HSC)
Print: HSRC Library: shelf number 8636
HANDLE: 20.500.11910/1942
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/20.500.11910/1942

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In HIV-discordant relationships, the HIV-negative partner also carries the burden of a stigmatised disease. For this reason, couples often hide their HIV-discordant status from family, friends and community members. This perpetuates the silence around HIV- discordant relationships and impacts on targeted HIV prevention, treatment and counselling efforts. This article reports on experiences of stigma and discrimination among HIV-discordant couples in South Africa, Tanzania and Ukraine. During 2008, HIV-discordant couples who had been in a relationship for at least one year were recruited purposively through health-care providers and civil society organisations in the three countries. Participants completed a brief self-administered questionnaire, while semi-structured interviews were conducted with each partner separately and with both partners together. Interviews were analysed using thematic content analysis. Fifty-one couples were recruited: 26 from South Africa, 10 from Tanzania, and 15 from Ukraine. Although most participants had disclosed their HIV status to someone other than their partner, few were living openly with HIV discordance. Experiences of stigma were common and included being subjected to gossip, rumours and name-calling, and HIV-negative partners being labelled as HIV-positive. Perpetrators of discrimination included family members and health workers. Stigma and discrimination present unique and complex challenges to couples in HIV sero-discordant relationships in these three diverse countries. Addressing stigmatisation of HIV-discordant couples requires a holistic human rights approach and specific programme efforts to address discrimination in the health system.