Attitudes towards people living with HIV and people who inject drugs: A mixed method study of stigmas within harm reduction programs in Kazakhstan

Int J Drug Policy. 2019 Jun;68:27-36. doi: 10.1016/j.drugpo.2019.02.007. Epub 2019 Apr 10.


Background: High levels of stigma towards people who inject drugs (PWID) and people living with HIV (PLWH) exist in Kazakhstan, yet little is known about the role of stigma in harm reduction service settings. In this paper, we use a mixed method design to explore and describe the actionable drivers and facilitators of stigma among harm reduction service providers. Additionally, we describe the manifestations of stigma among PWID who are living with HIV (PWID/LWH), and the impact that stigma has on harm reduction and healthcare service utilization.

Methods: Eight focus groups with 57 PWID/LWH were convened between March 2016 and July 2016 to describe manifestations of stigma from the perspective of syringe exchange program (SEP) clients. Additionally, we surveyed 80 nurses, social workers, outreach workers, and providers of HIV care at SEPs between January 2017 and July 2017 to assess stigmatizing attitudes among staff within the SEP environment. Joint displays were used to integrate quantitative and qualitative data.

Results: The actionable drivers of stigma identified in this study include negative opinions and moral judgements towards PWID/LWH. Facilitators identified included stigmatization as a social norm within the service provision environment, a lack of awareness of anti-discrimination policies, and lack of enforcement of anti-discrimination policies. Qualitative findings highlight manifestations of stigma in which PWID/LWH experienced denial of services, perceived negative attitudes, and avoidance from service provision staff. PWID/LWH also described segregation in healthcare settings, the use of unnecessary precautions by providers, and unauthorized disclosure of HIV status.

Conclusions: This paper highlights the urgent need to address stigma in the harm reduction and HIV service settings in Kazakhstan. These findings have implications for informing an actionable model for stigma reduction for providers who deliver services to PWID/LWH in Kazakhstan. Drivers, facilitators, and manifestations of stigma are multifaceted and addressing them will require a multilevel approach.

Keywords: HIV; Harm; PWID; Reduction; Stigma.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • HIV Infections / psychology*
  • Harm Reduction
  • Health Personnel / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Kazakhstan
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Needle-Exchange Programs
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / psychology*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Stereotyping*
  • Substance Abuse, Intravenous / psychology*
  • Young Adult