Making sense of HIV stigma: Representations in young Africans’ HIV-related narratives

Publication Date


Document Type



Public Health and Recreation


International Public Health | Public Health | Virus Diseases

Publication Title

Global Public Health


In addition to undermining the quality of life of those infected and affected by HIV, HIV-related stigma impedes access to prevention and treatment services, thereby threatening to erode the promise of recent advances in these areas. This paper provides insights into the socio-contextual and sense-making processes that inform HIV stigma through an innovative form of empirical data: creative fictional narratives written by young Africans (aged 10–24) for an HIV-themed scriptwriting competition. From a sample of 586 narratives from six sub-Saharan countries, we selected for illustrative purposes three on account of the complexity of their representation of HIV stigma. We conducted a close reading of each, using stigma theory as a lens. Through their explicit accounts of stigmatising attitudes and behaviours of characters and through implicit contradictions, tensions and ambivalence in their messaging, the narratives provide insights into the symbolic and social processes that create and sustain HIV stigma. Our analysis illuminates the authors’ struggles to navigate the cultural resources available to them in their efforts to make sense of HIV, gender and sexuality. It highlights some limitations of current communication efforts and the potential for narrative-based communication approaches to engage with representations that devalue women and people living with HIV.


HIV stigma, sub-Saharan Africa, youth, narrative


SJSU users: Use the following link to login and access the article via SJSU databases.