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'The High Five Club': Social Relations and Perspectives on HIV-Related Stigma During an HIV Outbreak in West Virginia.


In the United States, HIV outbreaks are occurring in areas most affected by the opioid epidemic, including West Virginia (WV). Cultural Theory contends that multiple cultures co-exist within societies distinguished by their differing intensities of rules or norms of behavior ('grid') or degree of group allegiance/individual autonomy ('group'). Accordingly, we would expect that perceptions about HIV, including stigma, correspond with individuals' grid/group attributes. To explore this, we conducted qualitative interviews with people who inject drugs (PWID) recruited from a WV syringe service program. This paper focuses on our unexpected findings on stigma during a coinciding HIV outbreak. PWID living homeless identified as belonging to a 'street family'. Its members were mutually distrustful and constrained by poverty and drug dependence but despite their conflicts, reported openness between each other about HIV + status. Interviewees living with HIV perceived little enacted stigma from peers since the local outbreak. Contrasting stigmatizing attitudes were attributed to the town's mainstream society. The 'High Five' (Hi-V) Club, expressing defiance towards stigmatizing behavior outside the street family, epitomized the tensions between a desire for solidary and mutual support and a fatalistic tendency towards division and distrust. Fatalism may hinder cooperation, solidarity and HIV prevention but may explain perceived reductions in stigma.

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