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Rural Health Information Hub

Dealing with Stigma

Stigma is one of the greatest barriers to testing and treatment for people living with HIV. It also creates obstacles to prevention. People may not want family, friends, and neighbors to know that they are visiting an HIV/AIDS provider for testing or treatment. In rural communities with limited anonymity, people may not seek care at all. There is also stigma associated with working in an HIV/AIDS clinic.

Rural HIV/AIDS programs have addressed stigma in different ways, including by offering HIV services in health departments or community-based organizations that provide many different types of services and are not “branded with HIV/AIDS.” Many rural HIV/AIDS programs also conduct community education about HIV to reduce the stigma associated with the disease and increase the likelihood that people will seek care. Additionally, rural HIV/AIDS programs have helped people to obtain medications through the mail in nondescript packages. Social workers can also play an important role in providing culturally and linguistically appropriate services, increasing awareness, and providing education about HIV/AIDS.

Additional strategies have been identified that can reduce stigma for people living with HIV in rural communities, including:

  • Delivering provider education and training related to HIV stigma and misconceptions
  • Using telehealth and other remote care delivery models to provide increased access to treatment
  • Using mobile vans to deliver prevention, testing, and treatment services directly in communities

Resources to Learn More

Stigma Toolkit: Addressing Stigma: A Blueprint for Improving HIV/STD Prevention and Care Outcomes for Black and Latino Gay Men
Offers recommendations aimed to help health departments and others address stigma for Black and Latino gay men to improve HIV prevention and treatment.
Organization(s): National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors (NASTAD)
Date: 6/2018

The Effects of Stigma on People Living with HIV in Rural America
Highlights the different types of stigma people with HIV face in rural areas of the U.S. and the impact of these experiences. Describes the challenges of access to HIV care from a provider and patient perspective and discusses the positive impact a rural clinician can offer.
Organization(s): AIDS Education &Training Center Program (AETC) National Coordinating Resource Center
Date: 8/2016

Understanding HIV/AIDS Stigma and Discrimination
A brief specifically designed to help social workers and others working with people living with HIV/AIDS understand the individual and cultural stigmas surrounding HIV and its effect on prevention, care, and treatment. Includes suggestions for social workers to help address stigmas associated with HIV/AIDS in their community.
Author(s): Tomaszewski, E.
Organization(s): National Association of Social Workers (NASW), Human Rights and International Affairs Division
Date: 3/2012