A cross-sectional survey to assess the risk factors associated with stigmatizing attitudes towards patients with podoconiosis among rural youth in southern Ethiopia.
BACKGROUND: Many health conditions are associated with stigma due to beliefs about their causes and the physical changes experienced by patients. Among such conditions are several neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). Podoconiosis, classified as an NTD, is a form of lymphoedema caused by the co-influence of genetic and environmental factors. It is a major public health problem in Ethiopia and is associated with intense stigma. Despite this, little is known about the factors contributing to stigmatizing attitudes against patients with the disease.
METHODS: A cross-sectional survey was conducted in southern Ethiopia to analyse the attitudes of rural youth and associated risk factors for stigmatizing attitudes towards patients with podoconiosis, with the aim of informing stigma reduction strategies.
RESULTS: The survey included 336 randomly selected youth. Of the 177 (52.7%) youth who held more stigmatizing attitudes toward patients with podoconiosis, 105 (59.3%) were females and 171 (96.6%) did not have affected friends. Accurate knowledge about gene-environment influences and rejection of infectious causes of podoconiosis were associated with less stigmatizing attitudes.
CONCLUSIONS: Improving understanding of the gene-environment interaction and dispelling beliefs about infectious causes may reduce negative attitudes about podoconiosis. Affected youth may play an important role as agents of change to spread non-stigmatizing messages.