Journal Article

Internalized stigma among people living with HIV: Assessing the Internalized AIDS-Related Stigma Scale in four countries

Measuring internalized stigma is critical to understanding its impact on the health and quality of life of people living with HIV (PLHIV). The aim of this study was to assess the performance of the Internalized AIDS-Related Stigma Scale (IA-RSS).

Secondary analysis of the six-item IA-RSS was conducted using data from four cross-sectional surveys implemented in Cambodia (n = 1207), the Dominican Republic (n = 891), Uganda (n = 391) and Tanzania (n = 529) between 2018 and 2019.

IA-RSS scale item distribution was described. Multivariate regression models measured correlations between the IA-RSS and depression, antiretroviral therapy (ART) use and viral suppression. Confirmatory factor analysis assessed IA-RSS reliability and performance through analysis of standardized factor loadings and conditional probabilities of scale items. Analysis of qualitative interviews with PLHIV explored acceptability of IA-RSS item content.

Mean IA-RSS scores (possible 0–6) ranged from 2.06 (Uganda) to 3.84 (Cambodia), and internal consistency was more than 0.70 in each country (Kuder-Richardson 20), ranging from 0.71 to 0.83. Higher IA-RSS scores were strongly correlated with depression in (P < 0.001 in all countries), and inversely associated with current ART use (Dominican Republic and Tanzania) and self-reported viral suppression (Uganda and Tanzania). Confirmatory factor analysis showed good model fit (all CFI ≥ 0.950), but also that the IA-RSS may summarize two domains related to HIV status disclosure (two items) and PLHIV feelings about themselves (four items).

Strong performance across countries supports continued use of the IA-RSS. Further study is needed to explore potential item refinements and to better understand the relationship between internalized stigma and HIV treatment outcomes.