Thursday, June 20, 2013

A Conversation with Laurel Sprague on the PLHIV Stigma Index Roll-out in the US-- Part 2

View Part 1 of this Interview...

SAN: What are the biggest lessons learned from the Index thus far?
Laurel: Something I didn’t realize until I started working with this data is the existing level of internalized stigma and discrimination and how that impacts people’s behaviors in ways that can really limit our health and well-being. In some countries the percentages of people who have considered suicide in just in the past year because of their HIV status is heartbreakingly high.

The percentages of people across most, if not all, of the sites I have seen who have avoided getting health care when they needed it because they were afraid of being discriminated against are, again, really high. I think this really speaks to the challenges for people living with HIV just to have a healthy life with dignity. Even when health care was formally available, people still avoid it because of the risk of mistreatment. That has hit me hard.

SAN: What are the biggest barriers and issues the Index has identified that serve to perpetuate stigma against people living with HIV?
Laurel: We asked people in the survey questions about their perceptions regarding why HIV stigma and discrimination occurs. The responses are interesting to me because a lot of people say it is just basic ignorance about the facts of transmission. This is a sad statement given that there has been so much education over the past 1-2 decades globally. It may be the situation that people know the facts but don’t really believe them and so they are still afraid of people living with HIV and see us as a real threat to their health when we are actually not.

In terms of the common locations where people report that they face discrimination, I would say that healthcare settings are the center of HIV discrimination for a lot of people. It is not that health care workers are necessarily more discriminatory than anyone else, instead,  they are the people who are most likely to know someone’s HIV status -- which puts them in a position where they can discriminate. However, when we ask respondents to tell us what groups have been supportive or discriminatory towards them, a significant portion of respondents identify healthcare workers as the most supportive people with whom they  come in contact. I think part of the challenge for people living with HIV is that you don’t know when you go to see a new healthcare worker whether you are going to be treated badly or not. There are providers who refuse to see you, to touch you, to provide the services you need, or who question you inappropriately. On the other hand, within the healthcare field, there are these really committed people who provide healthcare for people living with HIV, who I know in many cases are a lifeline for their patients.

SAN: What do you think the greatest benefit of the Stigma Index will be?
What I would add to the things that we have already touched on, would be the opportunity for increased solidarity among people living with HIV and our allies and advocates in the HIV field. We don’t always get to hear each other’s stories and understand how stigma affects people within our own community. It gives us the real opportunity to collaborate across communities.

In addition to that, at the end of this we will have people living with HIV across the country who received additional job training through employment and involvement in the Stigma Index project. They will have gained project management, advocacy, organizational, research and data skills. Hopefully, these skills will be combined  with a sense of self-empowerment and of commitment to the full community of positive people so that we can come together  as people with HIV, and we can make a difference that improves the lives and well-being of all of us – particularly those living with HIV who are the most vulnerable to the multiple challenges from poverty, racism, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, etc. that limit people’s ability to access the services they need to live healthy and full lives.

SAN: How can members of the SAN get involved?
Laurel: I would like anyone in the SAN who is interested to be involved. We are putting together an academic advisory council of people who can provide any amount of time they have, according to their own schedule, to weigh in on different questions, results, and the implementation.

If people contact me and let me know what they are interested in, then I can bring them in. This is a collaborative process so the more brains, hearts, and hands we have involved there better. 

A big thank you to Laurel for a very interesting and informative interview! If you would like to contact her about the Stigma Index please

Furthermore check out another interview she did along with Eric Sawyer for after their PACHA presentation on the Stigma Index to learn more about this awesome project!

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