People living with HIV/AIDS face significant psychological and social problems in addition to their physical condition, primarily related to AIDS stigma and discrimination. This stigma is profound in Saudi Arabia as Islam prohibits behaviours associated with risk factors related to transmission of HIV, such as non-marital sex, homosexuality and intravenous drug use. In this study qualitative research methodology using narrative interviews was used to explore the experiences of people living with HIV/AIDS in Saudi Arabia. Data were collected from 18 male and female participants. Interviews were conducted in Arabic and each interview lasted 30 to 60 minutes. The interviews were transcribed, translated and analysed using a descriptive phenomenological approach until saturation of themes was achieved. Data analysis revealed five main themes: stigmatisation, disclosure, fear and vulnerability, lack of psychosocial support, and religiosity. Societal attitudes towards HIV/AIDS were a key factor in stigmatisation, which leads to discrimination and stereotyping. Participants experienced a negative self-image, feelings of shame and a threat to self-worth. Disclosure (when and to whom) of their positive HIV status was a great concern, while non-disclosure was a protective measure against stigmatisation. Confidentiality of HIV status was very important and people feared disclosure by the healthcare team to others. Fear and vulnerability included fear of punishment from God, fear of being discovered as HIV/AIDS-positive and fear of the future and death. Participants experienced isolation and lack of psychosocial and emotional support. In response to their experiences all participants accepted their diagnoses as destiny (ghader) and became more religious, using spirituality as their main coping strategy.
Tagwa Omer, Sandy Lovering, Majed Al Shomrani