Aim: This study examined the impact of taking or not taking antiretroviral (ARV) medications on stigma, as reported by people living with HIV infection in five African countries.
Design: A two group (taking or not taking ARVs) by three (time) repeated measures analysis of variance examined change in reported stigma in a cohort sample of 1454 persons living with HIV infection in Lesotho, Malawi, South Africa, Swaziland, and Tanzania. Participants self-reported taking ARV medications and completed a standardized stigma scale validated in the African context. Data were collected at three points in time, from January 2006 to March 2007. Participants taking ARV medications self-reported a mean CD4 count of 273 and those not taking ARVs self-reported a mean CD4 count of 418.
Results: Both groups reported significant decreases in total HIV stigma over time; however, people taking ARVs reported significantly higher stigma at Time 3 compared to those not taking ARVs.
Discussion: This study documents that this sample of 1454 HIV infected persons in five countries in Africa reported significantly less HIV stigma over time. In addition, those participants taking ARV medications experienced significantly higher HIV stigma over time compared to those not taking ARVs. This finding contradicts some authors' opinions that when clients enroll in ARV medication treatment it signifies that they are experiencing less stigma. This work provides caution to health care providers to alert clients new to ARV treatment that they may experience more stigma from their families and communities when they learn they are taking ARV medications.