Problem of violence against women with HIV is unacknowledged, say researchers

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: (Published 19 February 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f1087
  1. Sophie Arie
  1. 1London

The authors of a new study have called for recognition and specialised support for women suffering from both HIV and gender based violence (GBV).

“For women experiencing this there really needs to be specialist case management,” said Jane Hutchinson, the study’s coauthor. The study looks at the feasibility of a full investigation into the problem,1 and is published by the Sophia Forum, a network of organisations in the United Kingdom that promote women’s health.

The link between HIV and GBV has been widely researched internationally, but in the UK the problem is “under-researched and relatively unacknowledged,” the study says. Health workers and support groups do not systematically look out for it.

The study, which gathered information from health services and HIV and GBV support groups in England between February and June 2012, found that many women—often migrants or prisoners—cannot gain access to regular HIV treatment because their abusive partners also often control their transport and finances. Many of these women do not disclose their condition or domestic abuse because of the stigma attached to both, and many have mental health problems.

Public discussion is needed on how to identify women facing this double burden and then offer them suitable support, the study says. “Should it be clinicians who screen [for both problems]?” asked Hutchinson at the launch event at the House of Lords on 14 February.

The authors called for a wide range of measures, including extensive research to identify the true scale of the problem in this country. The only study so far to look at the link in the UK was published by researchers from Homerton University Hospital in April 2012, who found that 52% of patients with HIV at a clinic in east London had suffered some kind of violence from their partner.2

Many women interviewed for the new study reported that institutional attitudes need to change. HIV is generally perceived as affecting Africans and men, particularly men who have sex with men. Women living with HIV are “largely invisible,” they said.

The study concluded that a full investigation of the problem was needed, and called for the creation of a best practice guide and training for health professionals to deal with GBV. The authors suggest that investment in understanding and tackling the link between HIV and GBV could, in the long term, improve access to treatment for those people and save public health costs.

Jane Anderson, chair of the British HIV Association, said, “Sooner or later people with HIV will meet a clinician so we do have a responsibility to understand the problem.”

Globally, women are the fastest growing population with HIV and made up over half of adults living with HIV in 2009, according to figures from the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS. In the UK, more than half of the estimated 91 500 people living with HIV are heterosexual; of those, 60% are women.3


Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f1087


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