Among places where people living with HIV experience and anticipate HIV-related stigma, stigma in health care settings may be particularly harmful. Utilizing an exploratory sequential mixed methods approach, we conducted interviews (n = 76) and questionnaires (N = 460) with older adult women living with HIV enrolled in the Women's Interagency HIV Study in Birmingham, AL; Jackson, MS; Atlanta, GA; and San Francisco, CA. Interviews addressed facilitators and barriers to HIV treatment adherence, including HIV-related stigma. Qualitative data were coded using thematic analysis. Questionnaires assessed self-reported antiretroviral therapy (ART) adherence and experienced and anticipated HIV-related stigma from various sources (i.e., health care personnel, family, partner, and community). Covariate-adjusted logistic regression analyses examined total and mediated effects of stigma on ART adherence. Interviewees described fears and experiences of stigma in health care settings; including privacy violations, disrespect for patient autonomy, and reproductive coercion; and how these influenced their adherence to HIV treatment recommendations. Experienced and anticipated HIV-related stigma in health care settings were associated with suboptimal (or <95%) ART adherence in separate models controlling for experienced or anticipated stigma, respectively, from other sources. When entered together, only anticipated stigma in health care settings was associated with suboptimal ART adherence, controlling for anticipated and experienced stigma from other sources. The effect of anticipated stigma in health care settings on suboptimal ART adherence may work through the pathways of lower adherence self-efficacy, higher depressive symptoms, and higher coping by substance use. These findings indicate that interventions should promote cultures of acceptance within health care settings and resilience-based strategies for women to combat stigma and promote life-sustaining behaviors.
Keywords: HIV/AIDS; adherence; antiretroviral therapy; mental health; mixed methods; stigma.