UR Nursing Researcher Receives NIH Award to Study Link between HIV Stigma and Symptoms

A University of Rochester School of Nursing researcher has been awarded a National Institutes of Health grant to continue his study of HIV stigma in West Africa.

LaRon NelsonLaRon E. Nelson, an assistant professor at the UR School of Nursing and associate director of international research in the UR Center for AIDS Research, specializes in the study of HIV risk and care among socially marginalized populations within African, Caribbean and Black communities. He received a grant totaling more than $433,000 in funding to examine the link between HIV stigma and HIV symptom frequency and distress among men who have sex with men (MSM) in Ghana.

HIV prevalence among MSM in Ghana is 15 times higher than that of the general population, and Nelson believes same-sex behaviors and identities that don’t conform to local masculine gender norms can stigmatize the men and cause them to disengage from HIV care for fear of ridicule or mistreatment.

“We have to create avenues for people to be engaged in health care without having to be exposed to situations hostile to who they are,” Nelson said. “There are very serious implications to be being disengaged, including poor symptom management which can negatively affect quality of life.”

Nelson, who participated in March in a White House symposium on HIV stigma, has investigated using innovative intervention approaches as well as emerging technologies to help encourage individuals living to remain engaged in their care and facilitate patient-provider communication. This study continues his longstanding work with MSM in Ghana and will inform his other ongoing research focused on using mobile app-based peer support to help mitigate the impact of stigma on care engagement and retention.

“As a public health nurse, I am interested in symptoms because they are grounded in the patients’ experiences of their bodies during illness. As a scientist, I am also interested in investigating the ways in which these experiences may be exacerbated by concurrent experiences of stigma related to the men’s HIV status and sexual minority status. The results from this study can provide evidence regarding whether stigma is only a social issue or if it is also a public health issue—and what public health strategies are needed to address it.”