New research: Developing a new approach to tackling stigma in healthcare

The DruGS team is currently working on an innovative new project funded by the Commonwealth Department of Health that explores understandings of stigma and stigma reduction in blood-borne virus (BBV) and sexually transmissible infection (STI) related healthcare. Reducing stigma is vitally important to improve lives and deliver equitable access for all, yet despite many years of attention in policy, little progress has been made on these issues. Given the enduring nature of stigma in healthcare, novel approaches are needed that are scalable for implementation across different health-related settings. The findings of this project will inform the development of novel large-scale interventions in key health care settings.

The DruGS team are leading a qualitative arm of this collaborative project. This component of the project will interview key informants and healthcare workers about their perceptions of quality healthcare, stigma, and stigma reduction in relation to BBVs and STIs. Fifty in-depth qualitative interviews will be conducted across Australia to explore: (1) understandings of the impact of stigma within healthcare settings; (2) priority areas for intervention; and (3) key opportunities for implementing a new approach to stigma prevention, the development of which is the key aim of the study.

The overarching study within which this component is being conducted is led by Professor Carla Treloar at the University of NSW, with empirical data collection led by DruGS team member Dr Adrian Farrugia. DruGS team member Ms Emily Lenton is responsible for daily project management, including recruitment and data collection, assisted by recent DruGS PhD graduate, Dr Gemma Nourse. Dr Elena Cama, based at the Centre for Social Research in Health at the University of NSW, is managing the ethics processes for the project and providing input into the design and development of the study materials.

As Dr Adrian Farrugia explains,

The negative impact of the discrimination faced by people living with BBVs and STIs while accessing healthcare is a well-known issue. We’re excited to to be collaborating on an ambitious project that promises to develop a wholly original way of tackling stigma and reducing discrimination.

Other chief investigators in this project are:

A/Prof Loren Brener, Centre for Social Research in Health, UNSW Sydney

Dr Tim Broady, Centre for Social Research in Health, UNSW Sydney

Professor Suzanne Fraser, Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, La Trobe

Professor Mark Stoové, Burnet Institute

Professor Virginia Wiseman, Surveillance and Evaluation Research Program, UNSW Sydney

Mr Robert Monaghan, Surveillance and Evaluation Research Program, UNSW Sydney


Treloar, C., Cama, E., Lancaster, K., Brener, L., Broady, T., Cogle, A. & O’Donnell, D. (2022). A universal precautions approach to reducing stigma in health care: Getting beyond HIV-specific stigma, Harm Reduction Journal 19 (74), 1-5.