Addressing community-level stigma toward key populations: communication insights from action research in Ghana
Background: Global HIV response emphasises improving the uptake of HIV testing, providing access to antiretroviral therapy and sustaining viral suppression with a view to curtailing the pandemic by 2030. Stigma and discrimination impede this response by limiting engagement with the HIV continuum among sub-populations such as men who have sex with men (MSM) and female sex workers (FSW). Stigma reduction strategies that explore community-level solutions and barriers to care for these key populations are under-explored.
Methods: A formative action research study was conducted in two regions of Ghana to understand community perceptions towards MSM and FSW to identify potential stigma reduction concepts. Multi-day interactive enquiries explored factors underlying stigma including rationale, personal values, perspectives on attitudinal change and related communication.
Results: Rationale for stigmatisation of MSM and FSW by participants highlight religious and cultural concerns. Perceived behaviours and practices of MSM and FSW were said to undermine religious, moral and community values. Attitudes of participants towards MSM and FSW became more accepting through critical discussion that revealed contradictions within the stigma construct and discomfort with the effects of stigma.
Conclusions: Participants realised that causing hurt or harm to others through stigma was not consistent with their religious and cultural values, nor how they saw themselves as people. There were four entry points that undermined the rationale for stigma: The need to know and understand ‘the other’, the need to be true to one’s moral values, the need for empathy towards others, and recognition of the value of all people within a communal whole. These findings are relevant for engaging communities in stigma-reduction programs and improving health-seeking and
adherence to care among key populations in similar African settings.
Keywords: African humanism, female sex workers, HIV care and support, men who have sex with men, stigma reduction