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Open Access Highly Accessed Review

Combating HIV stigma in health care settings: what works?

Laura Nyblade*, Anne Stangl, Ellen Weiss and Kim Ashburn

Author Affiliations

International Center for Research on Women, Washington, DC, USA

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Journal of the International AIDS Society 2009, 12:15  doi:10.1186/1758-2652-12-15

Published: 6 August 2009

Abstract

The purpose of this review paper is to provide information and guidance to those in the health care setting about why it is important to combat HIV-related stigma and how to successfully address its causes and consequences within health facilities. Research shows that stigma and discrimination in the health care setting and elsewhere contributes to keeping people, including health workers, from accessing HIV prevention, care and treatment services and adopting key preventive behaviours.

Studies from different parts of the world reveal that there are three main immediately actionable causes of HIV-related stigma in health facilities: lack of awareness among health workers of what stigma looks like and why it is damaging; fear of casual contact stemming from incomplete knowledge about HIV transmission; and the association of HIV with improper or immoral behaviour.

To combat stigma in health facilities, interventions must focus on the individual, environmental and policy levels. The paper argues that reducing stigma by working at all three levels is feasible and will likely result in long-lasting benefits for both health workers and HIV-positive patients. The existence of tested stigma-reduction tools and approaches has moved the field forward. What is needed now is the political will and resources to support and scale up stigma-reduction activities throughout health care settings globally.