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Introduction: Stigma significantly impacts retention in HIV care and quality of life among people living with HIV. This study explored community-level HIV stigma from the perspective of patients and healthcare workers in antenatal care (ANC) in Moshi, Tanzania.
Methods: We conducted in-depth interviews with 32 women (20 living with HIV), key-informant interviews with 7 ANC clinic employees, and two focus group discussions with 13 community health workers.
Results: Themes emerged related to drivers and manifestations of stigma, resilience to stigmatizing attitudes, and opportunities to address stigma in ANC. Drivers of stigma included a fear of infection through social contact and associations of HIV with physical weakness (e.g., death, sickness) and immoral behaviour (e.g., sexual promiscuity). Manifestations included gossip, physical and social isolation, and changes in intimate relationships. At the same time, participants identified people who were resilient to stigmatizing attitudes, most notably individuals who worked in healthcare, family members with relevant life experiences, and some supportive male partners.
Conclusion/Recommendations: Supportive family members, partners, and healthcare workers can serve as role models for stigma-resilient behaviour through communication platforms and peer programs in ANC. Manifestations of HIV stigma show clear links to constructs of sexuality, gender, and masculinity, which may be particularly impactful during pregnancy care. The persistence of stigma emphasizes the need for innovation in addressing stigmatizing attitudes in the community. Campaigns and policies should go beyond dispelling myths about HIV transmission and immorality to innovate peer-led and couples-based stigma reduction programming in the ANC space