Disclosure Concerns and Viral Suppression in People Newly Initiating HIV Care: The Role of Internalized HIV Stigma

J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 2021 Apr 1;86(4):406-412. doi: 10.1097/QAI.0000000000002593.


Background: Research on how disclosure concerns affect health outcomes for people living with HIV (PLWH) has yielded inconsistent results. Theoretically, disclosure concerns could predict either poorer antiretroviral therapy (ART) adherence (PLWH worried about disclosure may not want to take their medication in front of others) or better ART adherence (stronger concerns may enhance treatment adherence to avoid unintentional disclosure). Furthermore, internalized stigma (which is positively associated with disclosure concerns) predicts worse ART adherence (an effect potentially in the opposite direction of the direct effect of disclosure concerns).

Setting/methods: One hundred eighty-six PLWH initiating HIV care at 4 US clinics completed measures of disclosure concerns, internalized stigma, and ART adherence. Viral load data were obtained from medical records. We examined the indirect effect of disclosure concerns on outcomes, adjusting for the suppressor effect of internalized stigma. That is, we examined whether the association between disclosure concerns and ART adherence/viral suppression is stronger and positive when controlling for the effect of internalized stigma.

Results: Disclosure concerns were more strongly associated with better viral suppression and ART adherence when internalized stigma was in the model, suggesting that internalized stigma suppressed this association. Similarly, internalized stigma led to higher disclosure concerns, which in turn led to better ART adherence and higher likelihood of viral suppression. However, internalized stigma also had a direct effect in the opposite direction of this indirect effect.

Conclusions: Findings highlight the importance of addressing effects of internalized stigma and disclosure concerns jointly when attempting to understand effects on health outcomes among new-to-care PLWH.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anti-HIV Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Disclosure
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / drug therapy*
  • HIV-1*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medication Adherence
  • Middle Aged
  • Social Stigma*
  • Young Adult


  • Anti-HIV Agents