Zimbabwe: first free 24-hour clinic for survivors of sexual violence

Dr Prosper Chonzi, director of health services, Harare City Council, knows the problem of sexual violence is serious, and that people – especially women and girls – need help.

Dr Prosper Chonzi, director of health services, Harare City Council, knows the problem of sexual violence is serious, and that people – especially women and girls – need help.

Now there is support and hope for people in Zimbabwe, in the form of its first free 24-hour clinic for survivors of sexual gender-based violence, based at Wilkins Hospital in Harare.

“Sexual gender based violence continues to be a major public health concern in Harare and Zimbabwe at large. The consequences can be transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, unwanted and unplanned pregnancies, as well as the emotional and psychological effects it has on the survivor,” said Dr Chonzi.

One in three women experience violence

According to the Zimbabwe Demographic Health survey of 2010/11, approximately one in three women aged 15 to 49 have experienced physical violence and about one in four women have experienced sexual violence since the age of 15.

One problem that survivors experience is that the violence often occurs at night or over weekends, during times when dedicated health facilities are closed. “Available facilities only provide services from Monday to Friday and during working hours from 8 am to 5 pm. The launch of the new clinic will ensure that survivors will have access to free emergency care all round the clock,” Dr Chonzi said.

The new clinic was launched on 15 October, by the City of Harare in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Child Care and the Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development, and with support from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). “As we celebrate the launch of this new clinic for survivors of sexual gender-based violence in Harare, we should not stop here. We should move to ensure that these services are available across the length and breadth of Zimbabwe,” said Cheikh Tidiane Cisse, UNFPA country representative for Zimbabwe.

Integrating HIV services

The initiative is part of the Harare Fast Track Cities Project. The city of Harare in partnership with UNFPA Zimbabwe is integrating HIV and sexual and reproductive health and rights service delivery to survivors of sexual gender-based violence. The initiative will provide hope to hundreds of women who will receive proper HIV treatment and support.

The established and proposed sexual gender-based violence clinics will ensure survivors have access to services such as HIV prevention, HIV testing and counseling and sexually transmitted infections screening and treatment. Additional services will include long lasting contraceptives, screening for cervical cancer, antiretroviral therapy and screening for TB.

“It is envisaged that the availability of this new service will encourage survivors to access essential services,” said Donald Mujiri, public relations officer, Ministry of Health and Child Care.

Addressing gap in service delivery

A National AIDS Council (NAC) spokesperson commented that establishing sexual gender-based violence clinics throughout Zimbabwe would address a significant gap in service delivery in terms of sexual gender-based violence in response to the HIV pandemic. “This is in line with the getting to zero new HIV infections ambition,” he said.

The NAC, by the end of 2014, recorded a total of 6,905 women and 541 men who were sexually abused. A NAC spokesperson said: “Of the 7,446 clients who were sexually abused, 434 tested positive for HIV representing a positivity rate of 5.8 percent. Only 999 clients accessed post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) […] The low uptake could be attributable to none or late reporting resulting in failure to access services within the stipulated 72 hours. NAC exalts the idea of the 24-hour clinic to offer sexual gender-based violence services and we hope to record a significant increase in the uptake of PEP.”

The initiative also comes at a time when Zimbabwe is faced with harsh economic conditions resulting in many households unable to afford health care and medical-related services. It will enable women who have been affected by gender-based violence to access free services, offering them hope, where previously there was little, for treatment and care.

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