Maragh-Bass AC, Gamble T, Tolley EE. 'Either You Float or You Drown:' The Role of Social Ties and Stigma in Lived Experiences of the HIV Care Continuum in HPTN 065. AIDS Behav. 2020, 24: 2532-45..
HPTN 065 utilized financial incentives to promote viral suppression among HIV-positive participants. Exit interviews were conducted in a sub-study of participants in Washington, DC and Bronx, NY. The present analyses explored lived experiences of social ties and stigma as individuals navigated the HIV care continuum, including gender differences in lived experiences. Using viral load data and informed by stages-of-change theory, participants were categorized into "Low-Adherers (n = 13)", "Action (n = 29)" and "Maintenance (n = 31)" stages. Secondary analyses of qualitative data were informed by grounded theory, and instances of social ties and stigma discussed by participants were quantified with descriptive statistics. Participants (N = 73) were mostly male (64%), African American (58%), with yearly income under $10,000 (52%). Low-adherers identified fewer, and sometimes more combative social ties than those in other adherence stages. Maintainers identified supportive ties as motivation for medication adherence (68%) but relied less on them for motivation than individuals in other adherence stages. Low-adherers described current experiences of stigma related to being diagnosed with HIV more than other adherence stages (23%). Individuals in Action reported stigma related to disclosing their HIV status to others (52%), while individuals in Maintenance mostly stigmatized others engaging in "risky" behaviors (32%). Findings suggest that women may perceive greater HIV stigma than men, perceive less supportive social ties, and were the majority of Low-adherers. Gender-informed approaches can facilitate community de-stigmatization of HIV, as African American women may be at greater risk of negative HIV health outcomes.