“She Told Them, Oh That Bitch Got AIDS”: Experiences of Multilevel HIV/AIDS-Related Stigma Among African American Women Living with HIV/AIDS in the South

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Abstract

African American women bear a disproportionate burden of HIV/AIDS in the United States. Although they constitute only 13% of the US population, African Americans account for nearly 65% of all new HIV infections among American women. In addition, this population suffers comparatively greater adverse health outcomes related to HIV status. African American women living with HIV in the South may be further burdened by HIV/AIDS stigma, which is comparatively more pronounced in this region. To further explore this burden, we used narrative data and the Social Ecological Model to explore how African American women living with HIV in the US South recount, conceptualize, and cope with HIV/AIDS stigma at interpersonal, community, and institutional levels. Our narrative analysis suggests that HIV-positive African American women living in the South are vulnerable to experiences of multilevel HIV stigma in various settings and contexts across multiple domains of life. Stigma subsequently complicated disclosure decisions and made it difficult for women to feel supported in particular social, professional and medical settings that are generally regarded as safe spaces for noninfected individuals. Findings suggest that the debilitating and compounded effect of multilevel HIV/AIDS stigma on HIV-positive African American women in the South warrants closer examination to tailor approaches that effectively address the unique needs of this population.

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