Monday, June 17, 2013

A Conversation with Laurel Sprague on the PLHIV Stigma Index Roll-out in the US-- Part 1

Laurel Sprague is the regional coordinator of the North American affiliate of the Global Network of People Living with HIV (GNP+NA) and is herself living with HIV. She has provided technical assistance globally on the development and implementation of the PLHIV Stigma Index since 2009 and is leading the U.S. implementation. Furthermore, she teaches in the Department of Political Science at Eastern Michigan University. She’s a great advocate and has extensive expertise in survey research.

SAN: For readers who aren't familiar with it, what is the PLHIV Stigma Index?   
Laurel: PLHIV Stigma Index, or The Stigma Index, is a research action tool for communities living with HIV to be able to document our lived experiences of HIV-related stigma and discrimination, and to then use the results as evidence for advocacy work on our own behalf.

SAN: How did the People Living With HIV Stigma Index get started?
Laurel: The Stigma Index was created by four founding international partners: UNAIDS, Global Network of People Living with AIDS (GNP+), the International Planned Parenthood Foundation (IPPF), and the International Community of Women Living with HIV (ICW). Those organizations worked with existing surveys and with networks of people living with HIV to put together the questionnaire and the process. The idea was to be able to gather data and empower people living with HIV to manage the process and to use the data for evidence based advocacy.

SAN: How does the Index work? How are you using it to measure stigma?
Laurel: We measure the experience of stigma and discrimination from the perspectives of people living with HIV. The Stigma Index accomplishes this by training people living with HIV as interviewers who then interview other people living with HIV. This allows people living with HIV to talk openly, honestly, and safely – because they are talking only with other people living with HIV - about how stigma and discrimination has affected their lives. Additionally it looks at a comprehensive life picture of a person living with HIV by taking into account how their membership in other identity groups that face discrimination may intersect to create different forms of stigma and discrimination as well as at what people living with HIV can teach others about sources of support, resilience, coping, and self-efficacy.

SAN: Where has the Stigma Index been rolled out so far?
Laurel: It’s been implemented in more than 45 countries. It’s been implemented in every region of the world but never within the U.S. or Canada until now.* We are currently engaged in early discussions with PLHIV, AIDS service organizations,  and collaborative research institutions in Canada about the prospect of an implementation there.

SAN: How successful has the S.I. been so far? 
Laurel: That is an interesting question because what immediately comes to mind are two different kinds of success. There is success in gathering solid information across communities of people living with HIV—and some countries have been more successful than others in being truly inclusive of the diversity of all our communities. Ukraine is an example of a country that did an excellent job involving people from all key populations across the country. They have something that many of us look at as a model stratified sampling process that they used to identify which populations needed to be involved and then how to recruit them.

The other way I would categorize success would be by looking at what the advocacy outcomes have been and the self-empowerment for the people living with HIV. For example, when the Estonia Network for people living with HIV looked at their research results, one of the areas that they saw was a huge issue was the effects of HIV on employment discrimination. They initiated a project to educate employers in Estonia and to encourage them, first, to not discriminate based on HIV status and, second, to openly recruit people living with HIV for positions. They were successful in creating a network of employers who have committed to non-discrimination and who post publicly within their buildings that they do not discriminate against people living with HIV.

*Please note that the North American Region in this context is considered to only include the USA and Canada


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    Phila PA

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