The Social Determinants of Health for African American Mothers Living with HIV

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Caiola, Courtney Ellis


Docherty, Sharron L

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Problem: The disparate health outcomes of African American mothers living with HIV functions at the intersection of gender-, race-, and class-inequality; HIV-related stigma; and motherhood, requiring multidimensional approaches to address the complex social and economic conditions of their lives, collectively known as the social determinants of health. African American women suffer significantly higher HIV infection rates and tend to die earlier from their infection than their White counterparts. Poverty is a significant precipitating factor for HIV infection and African American women are disproportionately poorer than other subpopulations in the United States. HIV-related stigma is linked to poorer mental and physical health outcomes across a broad range of demographic profiles. Being a mother adds an extra layer of social complexity to the lives of women living with HIV. This dissertation was designed to develop knowledge on the social determinants of health for African American mothers living with HIV by describing their social location at the intersection of gender-, race- and class – inequality; HIV-related stigma; and motherhood and exploring how their unique social identity influences their health-related experiences.

Methods: Using data from a literature review on intersectional approaches and other frameworks for examining vulnerable populations, an intersectional model for the study of the social determinants of health for African American mothers living with HIV was constructed. A pilot study exploring the methodological issues and ethical challenges of using photo elicitation with a highly stigmatized social group of women was conducted. The intersectional model and pilot study findings were then used to guide a qualitative descriptive study using storyline graphs, photo elicitation and in-depth qualitative interviewing as methods for exploring the intersection of the social determinants of health for eighteen (18) African American mothers living with HIV. Content, vector and frame analyses were used to describe the intersection of social determinants and identify potential process and structural level interventions.

Results: Findings from the pilot study include best practices for using visual methods with a highly stigmatized and potentially vulnerable group of women. Findings from the qualitative descriptive study include six additional social determinants of health - social support, religiosity, animal companions, physical environment, transportation and housing - not initially included in the conceptual model, a case for strength-based approaches, intersecting social determinants functioning as systems of oppression and the heterogeneous and fluid social locations as framed from the mother’s perspective. Three frames of social location for African American mothers living with HIV were proposed – emancipatory, situational, and internalized – as well as potential health implications and interventions. Each of the findings add to the literature on the configuration of intersecting social determinants health relevant to African American mothers living with HIV, expand the proposed intersectional model and help to generate hypotheses needed for intervention studies.






Caiola, Courtney Ellis (2015). The Social Determinants of Health for African American Mothers Living with HIV. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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