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An exploratory study on the mental health of immigrants, refugees and non-status people living with HIV in Toronto

Josephine Pui-Hing Wong (Associate Professor, based at Ryerson University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada)
Alan Tai-Wai Li (Primary Care and HIV Physician, based at Regent Park Community Health Centre, Toronto, Ontario, Canada)
Maurice Kwong-Lai Poon (Associate Professor, based at York University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada)
Kenneth Po-Lun Fung (Associate Professor, based at University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada)

International Journal of Migration, Health and Social Care

ISSN: 1747-9894

Article publication date: 23 September 2013




Canadian HIV/AIDS researchers, service providers and policy-makers are faced with new challenges of providing effective and inclusive care that meets the needs of the changing populations infected with and affected by HIV. Since 2005 immigrants and refugees from ethno-racial minority communities have comprised close to 20 percent of all new HIV infections in Canada. Anecdotes shared by PLWHAs and service providers indicated that mental health challenges faced by newcomer PLWHAs was a priority concern for HIV prevention, treatment and care. This paper reports on the results of an exploratory study, which examined the complex factors that influence the mental health of immigrants and refugees living with HIV/AIDS (IR-PLWHAs).


This exploratory study is informed by a critical social science paradigm, which acknowledges that the everyday reality is shaped by interlocking systems of social processes and unequal power relations. The paper used a qualitative interpretative design and focus groups to explore the intersecting effects of living with HIV/AIDS, migration and settlement, and HIV stigma and discrimination on the mental health of IR-PLWHAs.


The paper found that in addition to social and economic marginalization, IR-PLWHAs experienced multiple stressors associated with their HIV status: neurocognitive and physical impairments, HIV stigma and discrimination, and fear of deportation. The paper also found that the experiences of stigma and discrimination among IR-PLWHAs were complex and contextual, closely linked to their social positions defined by the intersecting dimensions of race, class, gender, citizenship, sexualities, body norms, and HIV status. The paper concludes that effective HIV prevention, treatment and care, and mental health promotion in newcomer and ethno-racial minority communities must consider the bio-psycho-social connections of different stressors and the interlocking systems of oppression faced by IR-PLWHAs.

Research limitations/implications

This study was exploratory in nature with a small number of participants who were recruited through AIDS organizations in Toronto. Consequently, the recruitment strategy may reach only those who were connected to the AIDS organizations. The paper believes that IR-PLWHAs who were not connected to the AIDS organizations might experience even more social exclusion and marginalization. These factors may limit the transferability of this study.


This is the first study that explores the bio-psycho-social connections and intersecting determinants of mental health among immigrants and refugees living with HIV and AIDS in Canada. The results of this study contribute to cross-sector dialogue among practitioners and researchers in the HIV/AIDS, mental health, and immigration and settlement services sectors.



This exploratory study was supported by a seed grant from the Ontario HIV Treatment Network.


Pui-Hing Wong, J., Tai-Wai Li, A., Kwong-Lai Poon, M. and Po-Lun Fung, K. (2013), "An exploratory study on the mental health of immigrants, refugees and non-status people living with HIV in Toronto", International Journal of Migration, Health and Social Care, Vol. 9 No. 3, pp. 122-134.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2013, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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