Janet Turan and colleagues examined the role of the perception of women in rural Kenya of HIV-related stigma during pregnancy on their subsequent utilization of maternity services.
Childbirth with a skilled attendant is crucial for preventing maternal mortality and is an important opportunity for prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV. The Maternity in Migori and AIDS Stigma Study (MAMAS Study) is a prospective mixed-methods investigation conducted in a high HIV prevalence area in rural Kenya, in which we examined the role of women's perceptions of HIV-related stigma during pregnancy in their subsequent utilization of maternity services.
Methods and Findings
From 2007–2009, 1,777 pregnant women with unknown HIV status completed an interviewer-administered questionnaire assessing their perceptions of HIV-related stigma before being offered HIV testing during their first antenatal care visit. After the visit, a sub-sample of women was selected for follow-up (all women who tested HIV-positive or were not tested for HIV, and a random sample of HIV-negative women, n = 598); 411 (69%) were located and completed another questionnaire postpartum. Additional qualitative in-depth interviews with community health workers, childbearing women, and family members (n = 48) aided our interpretation of the quantitative findings and highlighted ways in which HIV-related stigma may influence birth decisions. Qualitative data revealed that health facility birth is commonly viewed as most appropriate for women with pregnancy complications, such as HIV. Thus, women delivering at health facilities face the risk of being labeled as HIV-positive in the community. Our quantitative data revealed that women with higher perceptions of HIV-related stigma (specifically those who held negative attitudes about persons living with HIV) at baseline were subsequently less likely to deliver in a health facility with a skilled attendant, even after adjusting for other known predictors of health facility delivery (adjusted odds ratio = 0.44, 95% CI 0.22–0.88).
Our findings point to the urgent need for interventions to reduce HIV-related stigma, not only for improving quality of life among persons living with HIV, but also for better health outcomes among all childbearing women and their families.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary.
Every year, nearly 350,000 women die from pregnancy- or childbirth-related complications. Almost all these “maternal” deaths occur in developing countries. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, the maternal mortality ratio (the number of maternal deaths per 100,000 live births) is 500 whereas in industrialized countries it is only 12. Most maternal deaths are caused by hemorrhage (severe bleeding after childbirth), post-delivery infections, obstructed (difficult) labor, and blood pressure disorders during pregnancy. All these conditions can be prevented if women have access to adequate reproductive health services and if trained health care workers are present during delivery. Notably, in sub-Saharan Africa, infection with HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) is an increasingly important contributor to maternal mortality. HIV infection causes maternal mortality directly by increasing the occurrence of pregnancy complications and indirectly by increasing the susceptibility of pregnant women to malaria, tuberculosis, and other “opportunistic” infections—HIV-positive individuals are highly susceptible to other infections because HIV destroys the immune system.
Why Was This Study Done?
Although skilled delivery attendants reduce maternal mortality, there are many barriers to their use in developing countries including cost and the need to travel long distances to health facilities. Fears and experiences of HIV-related stigma and discrimination (prejudice, negative attitudes, abuse, and maltreatment directed at people living with HIV) may also be a barrier to the use of skilled childbirth service. Maternity services are prime locations for HIV testing and for the provision of interventions for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV, so pregnant women know that they will have to “deal with” the issue of HIV when visiting these services. In this prospective mixed-methods study, the researchers examine the role of pregnant women's perceptions of HIV-related stigma in their subsequent use of maternity services in Nyanza Province, Kenya, a region where 16% women aged 15–49 are HIV-positive and where only 44.2% of mothers give birth in a health facility. A mixed-methods study combines qualitative data—how people feel about an issue—with quantitative data—numerical data about outcomes.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
In the Maternity in Migori and AIDS Stigma (MAMAS) study, pregnant women with unknown HIV status living in rural regions of Nyanza Province answered questions about their perceptions of HIV-related stigma before being offered HIV testing during their first antenatal clinic visit. After delivery, the researchers asked the women who tested HIV positive or were not tested for HIV and a sample of HIV-negative women where they had delivered their baby. They also gathered qualitative information about barriers to maternity and HIV service use by interviewing childbearing women, family members, and community health workers. The qualitative data indicate that labor in a health facility is commonly viewed as being most appropriate for women with pregnancy complications such as HIV infection. Thus, women delivering at health facilities risk being labeled as HIV positive, a label that the community associates with promiscuity. The quantitative data indicate that women with more negative attitudes about HIV-positive people (higher perceptions of HIV-related stigma) at baseline were about half as likely to deliver in a health facility with a skilled attendant as women with more positive attitudes about people living with HIV.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that HIV-related stigma is associated with the low rate of delivery by skilled attendants in rural areas of Nyanza Province and possibly in other rural regions of sub-Saharan Africa. Community mobilization efforts aimed at increasing the use of PMTCT services may be partly responsible for the strong perception that delivery in a health facility is most appropriate for women with HIV and other pregnancy complications and may have inadvertently strengthened the perception that women who give birth in such facilities are likely to be HIV positive. The researchers suggest, therefore, that health messages should stress that delivery in a health facility is recommended for all women, not just HIV-positive women or those with pregnancy complications, and that interventions should be introduced to reduce HIV-related stigma. This combined strategy has the potential to increase the use of maternity services by all women and the use of HIV and PMTCT services, thereby reducing some of the most pressing health problems facing women and their children in sub-Saharan Africa.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001295.
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) provides information on maternal mortality, including the WHO/UNICEF/UNFPA/World Bank 2008 country estimates of maternal mortality; a UNICEF special report tells the stories of seven mothers living with HIV in Lesotho
The World Health Organization provides information on maternal health, including information about Millennium Development Goal 5, which aims to reduce maternal mortality (in several languages); the Millennium Development Goals, which were agreed by world leaders in 2000, are designed to eradicate extreme poverty worldwide by 2015
Immpact is a global research initiative for the evaluation of safe motherhood intervention strategies
Maternal Death: The Avoidable Crisis is a briefing paper published by the independent humanitarian medical aid organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in March 2012
Information is available from Avert, an international AIDS charity on all aspects of HIV/AIDS, including information on women, HIV and AIDS, on HIV and pregnancy, on HIV and AIDS stigma and discrimination, and on HIV in Kenya (in English and Spanish); Avert also has personal stories from women living with HIV
The Stigma Action Network (SAN) is a collaborative endeavor that aims to comprehensively coordinate efforts to develop and expand program, research, and advocacy strategies for reducing HIV stigma worldwide, including mobilizing stakeholders, delivering program and policy solutions, and maximizing investments in HIV programs and services globally
The People Living with Stigma Index aims to address stigma relating to HIV and advocate on key barriers and issues perpetuating stigma; it has recently published Piecing it together for women and girls, the gender dimensions of HIV-related stigma
The Health Policy Project http://www.healthpolicyproject.com has prepared a review of the academic and programmatic literature on stigma and discrimination as barriers to achievement of global goals for maternal health and the elimination of new child HIV infections (see under Resources)
More information on the MAMAS study is available from the UCSF Center for AIDS Prevention Studies