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Open Access Research article

Knowledge, perceived stigma, and care-seeking experiences for sexually transmitted infections: a qualitative study from the perspective of public clinic attendees in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Monica Malta12*, Francisco I Bastos3, Steffanie A Strathdee4, Shayna D Cunnigham5, Jose Henrique Pilotto6 and Deanna Kerrigan5

Author Affiliations

1 Social Science Department, Sergio Arouca School of Public Health (DCS/ENSP), Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

2 Mental Health Department, Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, USA

3 Health Information Department, Center for Scientific and Technological Information (DIS/CICT), Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

4 Division of International Health and Cross Cultural Medicine, Department of Family and Preventive Medicine at University of California, San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine, San Diego, CA, USA

5 Department of International Health, Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, USA

6 Evandro Chagas Clinical Research Institute, Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

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BMC Public Health 2007, 7:18  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-7-18

Published: 1 February 2007

Abstract

Background

An estimated 12 million sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are documented in Brazil per year. Given the scope of this public health challenge and the importance of prompt treatment and follow-up counseling to reduce future STI/HIV-related risk behavior, we sought to qualitatively explore STI clinic experiences among individuals diagnosed with STIs via public clinics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The study focused on eliciting the perspective of clinic users with regard to those factors influencing their STI care-seeking decisions and the health education and counseling which they received during their clinic visit.

Methods

Thirty semi-structured interviews were conducted with heterosexual men and women and men who have sex with men presenting with STIs at two public clinics. Content analysis was conducted by coding transcripts of audio-taped interviews for key domains of interest and comparing and synthesizing code output across participants and sub-groups. Thematic narratives were then developed per each of the study sub-groups.

Results

Salient themes that emerged from participant narratives included the importance of low STI-related knowledge and high perceived stigma, both STI-related and other types of social stigma, on STI care-seeking delays. However, there are indications in the data that the level of STI-related knowledge and the amount and types of stigma experienced vary across the study sub-groups suggesting the need for further research on the significance and program relevance of these potential differences. Interview findings also suggest that such barriers to care seeking are not adequately addressed through ongoing health education and counseling efforts at public STI clinics and in turn critical opportunities for STI/HIV prevention are currently being missed.

Conclusion

Information, communication and education regarding early recognition and prompt care-seeking for STIs should be developed, with consideration given to the possibility of tailoring messages tailored to specific sub-groups. To promote prompt treatment-seeking, interventions must also address both STI-specific and other forms of social stigma which may limit access to care. Efforts to further assess and respond to barriers related to the delivery of quality health education and counseling within the context of public STI clinics are also needed.