Background: Descriptive literature exists on the effects of HIV-related stigma on the lives of people living with HIV infection but few empirical studies have measured perceived HIV stigma nor explored its potential relationship to quality of life (QoL) over time in people living with HIV infection.
Aim: A cohort study of a purposive convenient sample of 1457 HIV-positive persons was followed for one year in a longitudinal design that examined the effects of stigma and the life satisfaction dimension of the HIV/AIDS Targeted Quality of Life Instrument (HAT-QOL) over time, as well as the influence of other demographic and assessed social variables. Data were collected three times about six months apart from December 2005 to March 2007.
Results: The average age in this sample was 36.8 years (SD=8.78, n=1454) and 72.7% (n=1056) were female. The initial sample of participants was balanced among the five countries: Lesotho, Malawi, South Africa, Swaziland, and Tanzania. An attrition analysis demonstrated few demographic differences between those who remained in the study 12 months later compared with those at baseline. However, those who completed the study and who answered the QoL questions had significantly higher life satisfaction scores at baseline than those who left the study. There was a general increase in the report of life satisfaction QoL in all countries over the one-year period. However, as stigma scores increased over time there was a significant decrease in life satisfaction with differing rates of change by country. Certain factors had a positive influence on life satisfaction QoL: positive HIV media reports, taking antiretrovirals, reduced symptom intensity, and disclosure to a friend.
Conclusion: This cohort study is the first to document empirically in a longitudinal sample, that perceived HIV stigma has a significantly negative and constant impact upon life satisfaction QoL for people with HIV infection. In the absence of any intervention to address and reduce stigmatization, individuals will continue to report poorer life satisfaction evidenced by reduced living enjoyment, loss of control in life, decreased social interactivity, and decreased perceived health status.
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