Stigma by association: the effects of caring for HIV/AIDS patients in South Africa

Health Soc Care Community. 2011 Sep;19(5):541-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2524.2011.01002.x. Epub 2011 May 4.


The shortage of healthcare workers caring for South Africa's 5-6 million persons living with HIV/AIDS (PLHA) calls for inquiry into workers' challenges and experiences. This exploratory study examines one little-studied challenge: stigmatisation of HIV/AIDS healthcare workers based on their association with PLHA. The authors tested the hypotheses that HIV/AIDS healthcare workers experience stigmatisation due to their association with PLHA, and that such association stigma is correlated with thoughts of leaving the HIV/AIDS field. A sample of 100 participants who provided direct care to PLHA was recruited from a variety of public and private HIV/AIDS care centres in Eastern Cape province, South Africa. Participants attended one of 12 focus groups held between June and August, 2008. They completed a 17-item questionnaire and discussed each item. Findings exhibit the presence of an adverse differentiation and labelling of HIV/AIDS healthcare workers, leading to status loss and discrimination, creating an impetus for HIV/AIDS healthcare workers to leave AIDS work altogether. A significant relationship (χ(2) (TREND) = 3.86, df = 1, P = 0.049) was found between contemplation of leaving AIDS work and perception of others' responses to their work with PLHA. In addition, associations emerged between type of AIDS worker and contemplation of working in AIDS care outside of South Africa (Kruskal-Wallis χ(2) = 6.96, df = 2, P = 0.031), with doctors and nurses reporting higher frequency of contemplating leaving South Africa to work with PLHA elsewhere (Mann-Whitney z = -2.53, P = 0.011). The study lays the foundation for additional research on the effects of association stigma. In turn, increased efforts to retain and recruit new HIV/AIDS healthcare workers will expand the pool of healthcare personnel to PLHA.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • HIV Infections / drug therapy*
  • HIV Infections / nursing
  • HIV Infections / psychology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nurses / psychology
  • Nurses / statistics & numerical data
  • Nurses / supply & distribution*
  • Patient Care / methods*
  • Patient Care / psychology
  • Prejudice*
  • Social Support
  • South Africa
  • Statistics, Nonparametric
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult