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Factors contributing to food insecurity among women living with HIV in the Dominican Republic: A qualitative study



Food insecurity contributes to poor health outcomes among people living with HIV. In Latin America and the Caribbean, structural factors such as poverty, stigma, and inequality disproportionately affect women and may fuel both the HIV epidemic and food insecurity.


We examined factors contributing to food insecurity among women living with HIV (WLHIV) in the Dominican Republic (DR). Data collection included in-depth, semi-structured interviews in 2013 with 30 WLHIV with indications of food insecurity who resided in urban or peri-urban areas and were recruited from local HIV clinics. In-person interviews were conducted in Spanish. Transcripts were coded using content analysis methods and an inductive approach to identify principal and emergent themes.


Respondents identified economic instability as the primary driver of food insecurity, precipitated by enacted stigma in the labor and social domains. Women described experiences of HIV-related labor discrimination in formal and informal sectors. Women commonly reported illegal HIV testing by employers, and subsequent dismissal if HIV-positive, especially in tourism and free trade zones. Enacted stigma in the social domain manifested as gossip and rejection by family, friends, and neighbors and physical, verbal, and sexual abuse by intimate partners, distancing women from sources of economic and food support. These experiences with discrimination and abuse contributed to internalized stigma among respondents who, as a result, were fearful and hesitant to disclose their HIV status; some participants reported leaving spouses and/or families, resulting in further isolation from economic resources, food and other support. A minority of participants described social support by friends, spouses, families and support groups, which helped to ameliorate food insecurity and emotional distress.


Addressing food insecurity among WLHIV requires policy and programmatic interventions to enforce existing laws designed to protect the rights of people living with HIV, reduce HIV-related stigma, and improve gender equality.

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