27 March 2018 Photo Earl Coetzee
Research focus on HIV and TB stigma among healthcare workers
Posters reading, “Let’s Stop Stigma” urge healthcare workers to ”Be kind to yourself. Be kind to others.” Pictured here are Dr Asta Rau, Director of CHSR&D and Dr Michelle Engelbrecht, deputy director of the centre.

Researchers working on an internationally funded project are tackling a key occupational health issue: HIV and TB stigma among Free State healthcare workers. They developed and rolled out interventions to decrease stigma and will soon measure the effects. 
In this four-year project, UFS researchers from the Centre for Health Systems Research and Development (CHSR&D) are partnering with Antwerp University and the Free State Department of Health.  

Stigma is like an invisible mark 
A project leader at the CHSR&D, Dr Asta Rau, says most research on stigma in public health focuses on HIV stigma towards patients. Little is done on stigma among healthcare workers themselves. 
Dr Rau says that stigma undermines people’s dignity and causes them suffering. It can even stop them from seeking healthcare. Stigma threatens the health of healthcare workers and the stability of the health system, which is already under strain due to personnel shortages. 

Interventions to make a difference

The research identified two types of stigma - external stigma that can be seen around us, e.g. in the way healthcare workers speak about or treat one another and internal stigma that happens when healthcare workers take this ‘outside’ stigma and turn it inward on themselves. 

Dr Rau says the interventions involve training healthcare workers about what stigma is and how to go about reducing it. “We give them the knowledge and tips on how to communicate when they encounter stigma. It is up to them to then use that to fight stigma.” A communication campaign with posters and branded social marketing materials supports the training. The campaign uses a single slogan: ”Let’s Stop Stigma” and urges healthcare workers to ”Be kind to yourself. Be kind to others."

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