The intersection of antiretroviral therapy, peer support programmes, and economic empowerment with HIV stigma among HIV-positive women in West Nile Uganda
HIV stigma remains a major problem of the AIDS epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa. Women fear impending social stigma including blame, isolation and abuse. HIV infection and HIV stigma interact cyclically, creating and reinforcing economic and social exclusion for individuals living with HIV. Evidence suggests that interventions for people living with HIV infection that include, in combination, antiretroviral therapy (ART), peer support and economic empowerment are likely to be more effective than if used alone. We report a qualitative study in West Nile Uganda that explored perceptions of HIV stigma among fifty-four HIV-positive women who had similar access to ART and HIV peer support programmes, but varying levels of participation (full-time, intermittent, none) in economic empowerment programmes. Our study found that access to ART, peer support groups, and economic empowerment programmes helped to curb perceptions of deep-seated HIV stigma for participants. More expressions of usefulness, hope and psychological well-being prevailed with participants who had increased participation in economic empowerment programmes. Our findings underscore the value of HIV outreach programmes which combine ART, peer support and economic empowerment to alleviate HIV stigma. Further research to quantify the interaction of these factors is warranted.
Keywords: antiretroviral therapy , economic empowerment, HIV stigma, hope, peer support, psychological well-being