Date of Award

5-1-2017

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

Mass Communication and Media Arts

First Advisor

Veenstra, Aaron

Abstract

Social support for people living with HIV in rural America remains a considerably understudied aspect of HIV/AIDS prevention. People living with HIV/AIDS (PLHA) require extensive support in order to remain in care, and reduce their viral suppression, and other disease complications. Without support, the likelihood that PLHA will refrain from or drop out of treatment options is gravely heightened, which consequently poses a significant threat for efforts to eliminate HIV as a public health issue. Using a mixed-method approach to Social Network Analysis, this study examines the principal role that social support plays in a person’s likelihood to adhere to care and consequently, attain viral suppression. Specifically, it looks at the roles of the family, friends, partners/spouses, and healthcare providers. The study also explores how social relations serve as mediators to stigma and discrimination, especially for disproportionate groups. Closely linked to social support availability is the perceived level of significance of the type of support that is available to the subjects. The study therefore goes further to explore the subjects’ perception of the support they receive (emotional, informational, and instrumental) and their satisfaction with it. This is imperative in that it sheds light on the role that the subjects’ social relations plays in their retention in care. This research again takes an interdisciplinary approach by exploring the contribution of both communication and health communication strategies to effect behavioral change. It contributes to research on HIV/AIDS health equity, and infectious disease management. It also contributes to efforts to identify strategies to control the spread of HIV by proposing efficient ways to optimize social support through the stages of the Care Continuum and consequently, facilitate an increase in the number of people who attain viral suppression. Keywords: Social Network Analysis; Social Support; Rural HIV; PLHA; Stigma.

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