South Africa has the largest number of people living with HIV in the world. Concurrently, problematic alcohol and other drug use (AOD) is prevalent in the country and associated with poor HIV treatment outcomes. Further, the high rates of stigma surrounding HIV and AOD contribute to poor HIV outcomes. Yet, how HIV stigma and AOD stigma together may affect HIV care has not been extensively studied in this context. Thus, we explored HIV and AOD providers’ and patients’ experiences of HIV and AOD stigma.
We conducted 30 semi-structured interviews with patients living with HIV who were struggling with HIV medication adherence and problematic AOD use (n = 19), and providers involved in HIV or AOD treatment (n = 11) in Cape Town, South Africa to assess how HIV and AOD stigmas manifest and relate to HIV care.
Two main themes around the intersection of HIV and AOD and their related stigmas were identified: (1) how patients use AOD to cope with HIV stigma; and (2) enacted/ anticipated AOD stigma from HIV care providers, which acts as a barrier to HIV care.
Intersecting HIV and AOD stigmas exist at multiple levels and increase barriers to HIV care in this setting. Accordingly, it is important that future interventions address both these stigmas at multiple levels.
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