This study by the Estonian Network of PLHIV is the first of its kind to be undertaken by HIV-positive people in Estonia, and aimed to collect information on stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV. The results show that HIV-related stigma and discrimination is ongoing and acts as a barrier for people living with HIV to access HIV prevention, treatment and care services.
Sample of respondents
The study found that HIV-related stigma was prevalent and an ongoing part of life for the people living with HIV in Estonia who took part in this study. Almost two-thirds of the respondents were men (63%, n=189) and almost two-fifths were women (37%, n=111). 80% of the respondents were between the ages of 25-39 with a further 13% between 20 and 24 years old. In terms of residency, 83% of respondents live in large cities, 14% in smaller cities and 3% in villages. The largest percentage of respondents, 42%, have been living with HIV for 5-9 years, while a further 28% for 1-4 years and 23% for 10-14 years. Further, 10% of respondents report having a physical disability other than HIV-related general ill health.
Nearly 40% of respondents lived with a spouse or partner; 17% had a spouse or partner but did not live with her/him; while 45% were single (unmarried, divorced or widowed). Nearly three-quarters of respondents reported that they were sexually active.
On average, 2.2 people lived together with the respondent at the time of the survey; with 8% (n=25) living alone. 136 respondents (45%) indicated that they had children with 37% living with their children aged 0-14 years of whom 56% were women. Two respondents, both women, indicated that one or more of their children were HIV-positive (3%); and two respondents reported that children who have been orphaned due to AIDS live in their household.
The largest group of respondents was people who use drugs (78%, n=232) with over half (51%, n=151) being former or current prisoners, and 43% (n=129) identifying both as people who use drugs and as prisoners or former prisoners.
The effects of poverty on the sample of people living with HIV are clearly evident. 24% of the respondents reported 'severe food shortage' (i.e. during a month there had been three or more days when respondents' household members did not have enough food to eat) with women reporting more food shortages than men. Furthermore, two thirds of respondents were unemployed with relatively more women than men among the unemployed as well as higher unemployment among respondents under the age of 30. Nearly two in five respondents reported no formal or only primary level education. In terms of income, 35% of respondents had a lower income, 33% middle income, and 31% higher income with relatively more women (43%) than men (25%) with a lower income.
Most respondents were Russian speakers (90%, n=271) with 29 Estonian speakers (10%). Estonian speakers were more likely than Russian speakers to be male (83% to 61%) and more recently diagnosed HIV-positive (59% compared to 32% were diagnosed in the last 4 years); while Russian speakers were more likely than Estonian speakers to be, or have been, people who use drugs and prisoners; and report much higher levels of food insecurity.