Theses Doctoral

A Mixed Methods Approach to Evaluating the Effects of Intersectional Stigma on the Health Decisions of Vulnerable Women in Masaka Region, Uganda

Filippone, Prema Lynn

Uganda has experienced substantive shifts in HIV prevention and treatment resulting in marked declines in HIV incidence and mortality rates across the country despite being among the top 5 highest new prevalence rates for HIV transmission and infection among women (Uganda Ministry of Health, 2019). Prior research has revealed that fear of stigma and discrimination, disclosure of HIV status, and quality of services are key factors in women’s healthcare decisions and care-seeking behaviors (Akatukwasa et al. 2021; Lancaster et al., 2016; Grossman & Stangl, 2013). Yet, there continue to be significant knowledge gaps regarding the mechanisms through which intersectional stigma exacerbates health outcomes for people living with HIV. This dissertation draws on baseline data, from the Kyaterekera project an efficacy trial testing the effects of a structural intervention on the HIV-health outcomes of women engaged in sex work within the Masaka region, Uganda.

Using an explanatory sequential mixed method design, this study utilized Structural Equation Modeling (SEM) to test the direct and indirect effects of intersectional stigma on mental health, while also evaluating mechanisms (i.e., social support and quality of care) through which stigma impacts mental health, treatment adherence and subsequent viral load. There were no direct or indirect effects of intersectional stigma on mental health, but intersectional stigma was positively associated with social support. Additionally, depression and adherence were negatively associated with viral load. Next, in-depth interviews (n=52) explored personal and community-level factors that may influence women’s care-seeking attitudes and overall health decisions. The following themes were most salient for women: 1) disclosure risk, 2) Intersectional community stigma permeates marginalized women’s health decisions, 3) adaptive behaviors and coping strategies are essential to maximizing care experiences, and 4) the Care Seeking Cost-Benefit Tradeoff. Through an integrative framework, quantitative and qualitative findings were then juxtaposed through a joint display and found to be predominantly complementary (McCrudden, M. T., Marchand, G., & Schutz, P. A., 2021).

Findings suggest that a positive association between intersectional stigma and social support may underscore the significant long-term effects of living with HIV. Moreso, holding other stigmatized social statuses. Moreso, this link between intersectional stigma and social support may be due to women anticipating the likelihood of experiencing community-level/interpersonal stigma with HIV disclosure and extensive contact with their social support network. Also, more contact with social networks, particularly those in which stigma norms and discriminatory attitudes are pervasive on the community/ interpersonal level (or perceived to be so) may account for the positive associations between HIV stigma and social support. Sex work had a higher degree of concealability than HIV. As such, sex work was disclosed less frequently than HIV to healthcare providers, family, and friends due to anticipatory community stigma.

Despite the finding that the explanatory sequential design produced no direct or indirect effects of intersectional stigma on mental health or viral load via SEM, the exploratory analysis provides substantive insights into the negative impact of HIV-related intersectional stigma on women’s care-seeking experiences and broader health decisions. Women’s care-seeking attitudes and behaviors reveal the intrinsic adaptive skills, strength, and resilience they possess to address individual health needs despite known barriers to care. Overall, this study provides further support for holistic interventions that can enhance and build resilience and successful adaptive strategies to mitigate the effects of HIV-related intersectional stigma.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Social Work
Thesis Advisors
Witte, Susan S.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 26, 2023