On Tuesday, Tiffiany Aholou, Tanisha Grimes, and Su-I Hou of UGA presented a qualitative study exploring strategies for reducing stigma and promoting HIV testing proposed by PLWHA in rural Georgia. Some of the themes that emerged from the participants' suggestions included:
- Minimize fear appeals;
- Develop "universal" messages that normalize the disease (without, ideally, compromising targeting or conveying a sense of false security to those groups not targeted by interventions);
- Focus on those responding well to treatment and living positively post-diagnosis;
- Emphasize confidentiality;
- Explore opportunities for greater anonymity in testing, through mobile units and other non-clinical settings;
- Promote perception of testing as a normative practice through mandatory (or opt-out) testing.
Based on these suggestions, the authors recommend that stigma reduction programming in the rural South include mass media campaigns that empower those across the socio-economic (and HIV-experiential) spectrum with dual messages of disease prevention and disease management. Specific recommendations include expansion of current BCC programming on cable stations to major networks and a possible revival of comprehensive household mailing strategies used to communicate health information during the 1980s. To me, what's really striking about this research are the parallels between the respondents' recommendations and the best practices that were discussed at the panel on global evidence-based stigma programming at the IAC (described in "A Viral Disease, Not a Moral One," below). Further evidence of just how universal the problem really is?