Delegates from the Ministries of Health, KP networks, KP service providers, SADC secretariat and the research team

HEARD recently hosted a symposium titled “Exploring the influence of intersectional stigma on access to HIV services for key populations living with HIV in the SADC region – a regional symposium”. The symposium, which was held from 3-5 April 2023 in Durban, was designed to share results of current research and plan future steps for a three-year research project funded by SADC HIV secretariat.

The research and intervention study on Stigma and ART adherence among young key populations is a collaboration between HEARD, University of KwaZulu-Natal, the University of Malawi, University of Zambia, and University of Zimbabwe, including community organizations and networks of key populations. More specifically, the research is designed around four objectives: (1) exploratory research examining experiences of intersectional stigma; (2) development of a conceptual model or theory of change; (3) design of an intervention based on the conceptual model in order to mitigate stigma effects and improve ART uptake and adherence; and (4) documentation of project results in the form of guidelines for improved intervention design and quality of care across the SADC region.

The exploratory phase of the study was completed in June 2022, with the project successfully engaging 158 young MSM and transgender individuals. Participants in the study shared their experiences of living with HIV and taking ART in settings where stigma and discrimination are linked to sexual orientation and gender identity, and HIV status, which have significant and negative influences on their quality of life. Through questionnaires and in-depth interviews, the project generated a rich and comprehensive data set on intersectional stigma and its influences on the choices and behaviours of young people.

At the recent symposium held in Durban which was attended by over 35 delegates (members of KPs, representatives from the Ministries of Health, representatives from KP networks, representatives from KP service providers, and representatives from SADC secretariat), study investigators presented first-phase research findings and deliberated on implications of study results for further phases of the study. Insights from attendees, including service providers will be of immense value in guiding and informing activities going forward. The symposium ended by setting out an action plan for activities in the three countries over the 2023 and 2024 period. More generally, it is expected that the study will provide evidence-informed guidance to assist stakeholders working in similar settings across the SADC region to improve uptake and retention on ART, and health outcomes for young key populations.

Find the meeting report here