Stigma is an underlying cause of health inequities, and a major barrier to HIV prevention, care, and treatment. Experiences of HIV stigma have been shown to reduce engagement in care across the HIV care continuum, from testing and diagnosis to long-term retention in care and anti-retroviral therapy adherence. In Rwanda, approximately 130,000 women are living with HIV, representing a prevalence rate (3.7%) which is substantially higher than Rwandan men (2.2%). Both the national Rwanda and City of Kigali HIV and AIDS strategic plans identify stigma as a key concern for reducing the burden of HIV.
The first objective of this study was to understand the sources of HIV-related stigma among women living with HIV in Rwanda. The second objective was to understand the cultural, linguistic, and contextual context of HIV-related stigma and the intersection of HIV-related stigma to the HIV care continuum (engagement in care, medication/treatment adherence) among women with HIV in Rwanda.
This study used a cross-sectional, qualitative design.
Setting and participants
Three-three women from urban and rural settings in Rwanda were recruited from public HIV treatment and care centers to participate in this study.
Focus groups discussions, guided by a structured interview guide, were used to collect qualitative data. Framework analysis was used to analyze the data, which was collected during July 2018.
The participants in this study highlighted that Rwandan women with HIV experience all forms of stigma - enacted, anticipated, perceived, and internalized - associated with HIV as well as structural stigma. Further, three major themes - dehumanizing language, importance of motherhood in the context of HIV, and overcoming HIV stigma - emerged from the data.
The results of this study are among the few to give voice and perspective to the stigma experiences of Rwandan women with HIV. The women with HIV participating in this study shed light on the pervasive and culturally constructed effects of stigma that continue to exist. Further, the findings from this study highlighted the significant intersection of the role dehumanizing language experienced by Rwandan women with HIV. Additionally, the intersectional identities of being a woman with HIV and a mother and their relationship to societal and cultural norms and expectations must be considered concurrently. Finally, the beneficial effects of support groups was identified as key in helping Rwandan women with HIV to accept self.