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Psychol Health Med. 2014 Jun 3:1-6. [Epub ahead of print]

Discrimination by health care workers versus discrimination by others: Countervailing forces on HCV treatment intentions.

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  • 1a Centre for Social Research in Health , University of New South Wales , Sydney , Australia.


Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is a major public health burden. Despite recent advances in HCV treatment, uptake remains low, particularly amongst people who inject drugs. HCV-related stigma and discrimination are common, especially within the health care sector. This research examines a more nuanced approach for how HCV-related stigma and discrimination impacts treatment access and uptake. Based on a social identity framework, we explore whether perceived HCV-related discrimination is associated with attempts to remove the stigma of being HCV-positive via HCV treatment intentions. Based on the results of prior research it was also hypothesised that the source of discrimination (health care workers versus others), and whether the discrimination is perceived to be directed to oneself or to the HCV-positive group, will differentially impact treatment intentions. The sample consisted of 416 people living with HCV in New South Wales, Australia, who acquired HCV from injecting drugs. Participants were asked about their experiences of perceived discrimination directed towards themselves versus their HCV-positive group and perceived discrimination within the health care sector. Findings indicate that discrimination towards the self is a more powerful indicator of treatment intentions than discrimination aimed at the HCV-positive group. This finding is consistent with social identity theory suggesting that people from low status groups are motivated to change their stigmatised status when it is possible to do so. The source of the perceived discrimination also matters, however, as participants who report experiencing discrimination from health workers have lowered intentions to engage with HCV treatment in the future. In combination, the results indicate that while perceived discrimination is commonly understood to act as a barrier to treatment uptake, the relationship is actually more complex than previously conceptualised.


hepatitis C; injecting drug use; perceived discrimination; social identity theory; treatment

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