Submission note: A thesis submitted in total fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy [to the] Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, School of Psychology and Public Health, College of Science, Health and Engineering, La Trobe University, Bundoora.
Social connections are the basis of society and the support they deliver is especially important for people living with HIV (PLH). Women living with HIV (WLH) in Australia are marginal in the HIV population; they are diverse and less likely than men to know others with HIV. HIV organisations have limited resources and services dedicated to WLH and little is known about their needs. WLH in Australia experience a range of social inequalities that may compromise their access to essential social connections and support. This thesis examines the social support and contemporary experiences of WLH. Interviews were conducted with 60 WLH from four Australian states, and information gathered about them and up to twelve people important to them. A description of the 60 participants was compiled and reduced to nine composite profiles generated from 42 categorical variables using correspondence analysis techniques. The social networks generated from WLH ranged in size from three to twelve, with a median of eight, and a total of 467 people. Of these, 40 percent were family members, 29 percent friends, 14 percent healthcare providers, 12 percent intimate or ex-intimate partners and 4 percent were co-workers. Overall, 80 percent had knowledge of the participant’s HIV status and there were striking similarities in a range of factors between each participant and their network members (homophily and social influence). Six types of social support were analysed. Multilevel modelling established that the personal networks significantly explained social support; as did the type of social relationship, the centrality of network members and whether they had knowledge of the interviewee’s HIV status. The findings from this research have provided a social view of WLH in Australia. They make an original and substantial contribution to the HIV literature, and to service providers to develop novel interventions to improve the social well-being of WLH.
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