The issue of stigma is very important in the battle against HIV/AIDS in Africa since it may affect patient attendance at healthcare centres for obtaining antiretroviral (ARV) medications and regular medical check-ups. Stigmatization creates an unnecessary culture of secrecy and silence based on ignorance and fear of victimization. This study was designed to determine if there is external stigmatization of people living with HIV and AIDS (PLWHA) by health care workers (HCWs) at a tertiary hospital in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) province, South Africa. The study investigated the impact of knowledge of HIV/AIDS by HCWs on treatment of patients, as well as the comfort level and attitude of HCWs when rendering care to PLWHA.
A descriptive cross sectional study was designed to collect data using an anonymous self-administered structured questionnaire from 334 HCWs. The study was conducted in clinical departments of a large multidisciplinary 922-bed tertiary care teaching hospital in Durban, KZN.
Overall HCWs had an above average knowledge about HIV/AIDS although some gaps in knowledge were identified. Tests of statistical significance showed that there was association between level of education and knowledge of HIV/AIDs (p ≤ 0.001); occupation and knowledge of HIV/AIDS (p ≤ 0.001); and gender and knowledge of HIV/AIDS (p = 0.004). Test for comfort level was only significant for gender, with males showing more comfort and empathy when dealing with PLWHA (p = 0.003). The study also revealed that patients were sometimes tested for HIV without informed consent before surgery, due to fear of being infected, and there was some gossiping about patients' HIV status by HCWs, thereby compromising patient confidentiality. The majority of HCWs showed a willingness to report incidents of stigmatization and discrimination to higher authorities, for better monitoring and control.
Although knowledge, attitude and comfort level of HCWs taking care of PLWHA was above average, enforcement of existing antidiscrimination laws and continuing education in medical ethics and healthcare law, would greatly improve the performance of HCWs taking care of PLWHAs. More psychological support and counselling should be provided to HCWs, to further reduce the impact of stigmatization and discrimination against PLWHA.