HIV-related stigma is a multidimensional concept that has pervasive effects on the lives of HIV-infected people as well as serious consequences for the management of HIV/AIDS. The stigma surrounding HIV in the Middle East is thought to hinder testing and risk reduction efforts (Obermeyer, 2006). In turn, this facilitates the spread of HIV because people do not know they are infected, and access to knowledge on how a person can be infected is limited. The growing prevalence of HIV in the Middle East (WHO, 2008) and the role of stigma in this population is a recently suggested research area by the National Institute of Health (NIH, 2008). My research area is HIV risk reduction in the Muslim World. CUMERC was my base to conduct research on HIV related stigma held by health care providers in Jordan during summer 2009.
Despite having both a low prevalence of HIV and Islamic social norms that tend to limit HIV risk behavior, Jordan has been a regional leader in addressing and implementing HIV risk reduction programs. In collaboration with Jordanian researchers, I refined a survey that will be administered to physicians, nurses, and lab technicians. Through assessing the stigma that health care providers hold toward people with HIV, I seek to measure whether an intervention is needed to address HIV related stigma.
Through first hand exposure to the ideas and challenges pertaining to HIV risk reduction in Jordan, I gained not only invaluable experience in my research area but also a more global understanding of the HIV epidemic. Moreover, mutual understanding and cultural exchange are leading goals in my project. As epidemics like HIV have no borders, the development of new research collaborations with Jordanian researchers is vital to the cross-fertilization of ideas. I expect my research to benefit the global knowledge bank of HIV prevention. Specifically, I intend for my research to expand the adaptation of existing HIV prevention strategies to international populations.
Alex Smolak is a doctoral student at the Columbia University School of Social Work and a pre-doctoral fellow at the Global Health Research Center of Central Asia. His research in Jordan was funded by a Middle East Institute of Columbia University Regional Travel Research Fellowship.
Obermeyer, C. M. (2006). HIV in the Middle East. BMJ, 333, 851-854.
NIH. (2008). PAR-08-153: Collaborative HIV/AIDS Studies in the Middle East and North Africa. Bethesda, MD: National Institute of Health.
WHO. (2008). Epidemiological Fact Sheets on HIV/AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections. Geneva: WHO.