Thursday, January 19, 2023

Intersection between Intimate Partner Violence & HIV

By: Ranier Simons, ADAP Blog Guest Contributor

As with any chronic disease, quality of life and effective disease management requires consideration of the whole person, not just the disease. Regarding HIV, many different social determinants of health affect treatment, outcomes, and disease acquisition. The social, cultural, and physical environment of people living with HIV can be a crucial positive or negative factor. A recent study investigates the intersection of domestic violence and HIV. The Lancet published a retrospective study in December 2022 exploring the relationship between intimate partner violence (IPV) and women’s acquisition of HIV and experiences in the HIV treatment and care cascade (Stillman, 2023).

Woman sitting on floor with her hands over her face, with a fisted male standing over her
Photo Source: Fighter Law

Globally, more than one in four women experience IPV in their lifetime (McGill University, 2023). IPV is a subset of domestic violence and is not limited to physical abuse. Its forms include sexual, psychological, and even economic abuse. IPV is defined as violence that happens between people in an ongoing or former intimate or romantic relationship (Cerulli, 2022). Men experience it as well. Nearly one in ten men has experienced it in their lifetime. The Lancet study focuses on women in Sub-Saharan Africa, the regions of Africa south of the Sahara. This includes West Africa, East Africa, Central Africa, and Southern Africa (Wikipedia, 2022).

The study is a retrospective pooled analysis of cross-sectional surveys encompassing 280,259 women across 30 countries administered between January 1, 2000, and December 31, 2020. Ages ranged from 15-64 years old, and all the women were currently or formerly married or cohabitating. Sub-Saharan Africa was chosen because, in global comparison, the region has a very high prevalence of IPV and HIV (Cerulli, 2022). For the purposes of the study, IPV was limited to physical and sexual abuse. The study estimated the effects of past-year physical, sexual IPV, or a combination of both. Four outcomes were the focus of the study: recent HIV infection, HIV testing in the past year, antiretroviral regimen adherence, and viral load suppression (Kuchukhidze, 2022).

Woman holding a sign, "HELP"
Photo Source: Loma Linda University 

Overall, 21.2% of the women self-reported having experienced physical or sexual IPV in the past year, and 29.1% had experienced it at some point in their lifetime. Self-reporting of HIV testing was very similar between the groups of women who did and did not experience past-year physical or sexual IPV, and more than a quarter of both groups had been tested in the past year. 

Regarding the women in the study who are living with HIV, there were differences in antiretroviral adherence. The ones who reported past-year physical or sexual IPV had lower uptake of ART (64.2%) than those who did not report any past-year IPV (71.3%) (Kuchukhidze, 2022).Those who had experienced physical or sexual IPV had missed 2-3 times as many pills in the past month as those who had not experienced past-year IPV. Additionally, women on antiretroviral therapy who had experienced past-year physical or sexual IPV were 5% less likely to be virally suppressed than those who had not. Regarding infection, women who had experienced physical or sexual IPV in the past year were 3.22 times as likely to acquire a recent HIV infection as those who had not experienced it in the past year (Kuchukhidze, 2022).

The mechanisms by which IPV can affect HIV acquisition are layered. One major pathway is infection through sexual violence, and another is the culture of the men who are abusers. Many may have multiple concurrent sexual partners coupled with a lack of condom use which would increase HIV transmission if they live with HIV. Knowledge of HIV status is an essential initial factor in reducing the adverse effects of IPV on HIV. Another barrier caused by IPV is antiretroviral adherence. Some women may fear being tested, dreading the possible reactions from their abusers if the test is positive. Treatment adherence is negatively impacted due to women not disclosing their status out of fear of abuse from their partners, making it hard to get them into consistent care.

Two fingers with marker showing one happy and one sad
Photo Source: Harvard Health Publishing

The study highlights the need for more research into the effects of IPV on HIV and systemic change to help the women involved. The researchers suggest that healthcare providers need to be trained on how to have patients safely disclose their instances of living with IPV. Additionally, there need to be innovative ways to safely deliver consistent antiretroviral and HIV care to those living with HIV in IPV situations. Creating patient-focused safe service delivery platforms, such as safe medication pick-up points, are policies to be considered (Kuchukhidze, 2022).

The Lancet study is further confirmation that there are many levels of barriers to overcome in the fight against HIV. Networks that span locally to globally are necessary to manipulate the mesh of life factors that complicate the transmission and treatment of HIV.

[1] Stillman, A. (2023, January 9). The link between HIV and domestic violence. Retrieved from

[2] McGill University. (2023, January 6). Women experiencing intimate partner violence three times more likely to contract HIV

[3] University of Rochester, Cerulli, C. (2022, March 23). What is intimate partner violence? It’s not just physical abuse. Retrieved from

[4] Sub-Saharan Africa. (2023, January 9). In Wikipedia.

[5] Kuchukhidze, S. et al. (2022, December 01). The effects of intimate partner violence on women's risk of HIV acquisition and engagement in the HIV treatment and care cascade: a pooled analysis of nationally representative surveys in sub-Saharan Africa. Lancet.Retrieved from DOI:

Disclaimer: Guest blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of the ADAP Advocacy Association, but rather they provide a neutral platform whereby the author serves to promote open, honest discussion about public health-related issues and updates.  

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