Partner violence hinders HIV prevention, treatment and care

Women living with HIV who face violence from their intimate partners find it harder to adhere to HIV treatment and access care, according to health researchers at the Sexual Violence Research Initiative Forum 2015.

Women living with HIV who face violence from their intimate partners find it harder to adhere to HIV treatment and access care, according to health researchers at the Sexual Violence Research Initiative Forum 2015.

The forum took place in Stellenbosch, South Africa, from 15-17 September. It highlighted research which shows that women who face violence from their partners have lower antiretroviral use and worsened viral suppression (where the ability of the virus to function and replicate is reduced). The research emphasises that clinical programmes must pay urgent attention to intimate partner violence as a factor which negatively impacts the treatment, care and health of people living with HIV and AIDS.

“Women who experience intimate partner violence are more likely to have mental health problems and low antiretroviral adherence, and this phenomenon has shown significant negative effects of viral suppression,” said Dr Jocelyn Anderson, presenting on second day of the forum.

“HIV and intimate partner violence commonly co-occur, affecting the health of women globally,” Dr Anderson added.

Failure to adhere to treatment

Abigail Hatcher, a researcher of the University of the Witwatersrand, also conducted studies looking at the links between intimate partner violence and HIV.

She said intimate partner violence is associated with HIV infection and that women who experience it have a 36 per cent lower odds of viral load suppression.

Hatcher added that although advances in HIV care and treatment have led to remarkable health gains, many women living with HIV remain out care, fail to take up treatment or do not adhere to it. Emerging literature shows that intimate partner violence is one of the factors that contributes to this, resulting in poor health outcomes among women and other vulnerable people living with HIV.

Criminalisation leads to violence

Researchers also reported that violence against men who have sex with men correlates to an increased risk of HIV transmission, infection and lack of access to health care and justice. According to the findings, this is especially true in countries like Cameroon, where same sex relationships are criminalised.

Violence was associated with denial of health services, mistreatment in the health sector and with arrest, imprisonment, and a lack of protection by the police. The findings also show that high risk behaviours such as drug use, poor condom use and sex with numerous partners were observed among men experiencing intimate partner violence.

“There are very high levels of violence and stigma from the community and partners but also from the police, in the context of arrest. It is often easier to speak about physical rather than sexual violence,” said Claire Mathonsi, the International HIV/AIDS Alliance’s regional representative on gender and gender-based violence.

Community-based approach

The researchers at the forum argued that in order for all people living with HIV to benefit from medical advances, there needs to be more research on intimate partner violence within the context of clinical care. HIV prevention programmes aimed at men who have sex with men should specifically address this issue.

Policymakers and programme managers must be more aware of the link between intimate partner violence and HIV among this vulnerable group. Research and policy advocacy in this area has to be strengthened, and men who have sex with men should be involved in a community-based approach towards the development of programmes.

To read more about the latest research discussed at the conference use the hashtag #SVRIForum2015

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