James Cook University ISSN 1445-6354
Introduction: In Canada, individuals living in Northern and rural regions report more barriers to health service access. For people living with HIV, these barriers may be exacerbated by experiences of HIV-related stigma and women living with HIV can be disproportionately impacted due to intersections of multiple forms of oppression including racism, sexism and classism. To further understand the impact of geography on the wellbeing of women living with HIV, this study assessed geographic differences in HIV-related stigma experiences among women in the Canadian HIV Women’s Sexual & Reproductive Health Cohort Study (CHIWOS).
Methods: CHIWOS is a multisite cohort study of women living with HIV in Canada that operates under community-based participatory research methodology along with GIPA (greater involvement of people with HIV/AIDS) and MIWA (meaningful involvement of women living with HIV/AIDS) principles. This analysis compared Peer Research Associate-administered questionnaire data between participants in Northern and Southern Ontario, Canada and also between participants in rural and non-rural Ontario. Northern regions were defined by healthcare delivery jurisdiction. The primary outcome was the 10-item shortened HIV Stigma Scale score. Multivariable linear regression models assessed the association between rural and Northern regions and stigma score.
Results: Sixteen women were excluded due to incomplete HIV Stigma Scale data. Of 701 women included in the analysis, 66 (9.4%) were from Northern regions and 24 (3.4%) were from rural regions. Mean stigma scores were 23.9 (SD 8.0) overall, 26.7 (SD 8.8) in Northern regions, 23.6 (SD 7.9) in Southern regions, 28.3 (SD 10.1) in rural regions, and 23.8 (SD 7.8) in non-rural regions. In multivariable analyses, Northern and rural regions of residence were associated with a 3.05 (95% CI: 0.77, 5.32) and 4.83 (95% CI: 1.37, 8.28) point increase in stigma score, respectively.
Conclusion: Living in both Northern and rural regions of Ontario was associated with higher HIV Stigma Scale scores. These geographic discrepancies in experiences of HIV-related stigma highlight the need for region-specific programs to reduce HIV-related stigma and to support people living with HIV who are impacted by HIV-related stigma, particularly those living in geographically isolated regions. Prior qualitative studies have documented the important impact of HIV-related stigma, and this study supports these observations with quantitative data from a population that is often under-represented in HIV research.