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Women rape survivors more at risk of contracting HIV years after rape, research finds

File picture: Esteban Felix / AP

File picture: Esteban Felix / AP

Published Dec 1, 2020


Johannesburg - HIV negative women rape survivors have a greater risk of acquiring HIV for years after their rape encounter, a new research study by the SA Medical Research Council has revealed.

The research was conducted by SAMRC’s Gender and Health Research Unit (GHRU). Its findings come as the world commemorated World Aids Day yesterday, December 1.

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The research found that a combination of factors were at play which resulted in HIV negative women rape survivors being more likely to contract HIV.

Some of the reasons include the impact of the rape incident on the victim’s mental health and well-being.

This was also coupled with the structural and societal factors that drive sexual violence and HIV, thereby increasing a rape survivors vulnerability to HIV, the study showed.

The findings were part of the Rape Impact Cohort Evaluation (Rice) study GHRU conducted from 2014 to last year.

A total of 1 019 women between the ages of 16 and 40 years who had sought care for rape in the Durban metro area were recruited.

“The women were interviewed and had their HIV status assessed at regular intervals and were followed up alongside a comparison group of women who reported that they had never been raped. In total, the study enrolled 1 019 HIV-negative women and found that among those who were raped, there was a 60% increased likelihood of contracting HIV, compared to women who had not been raped,” SAMRC said.

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Professor Naeemah Abrahams, the GHRU director and lead researcher on the study, said not much research had been conducted globally on the health impact of rape. This study was the first lengthy cohort study globally which compared rape survivors and controlled group of women to study the effects of rape and HIV over time.

Abrahams said this research was crucial in understanding the treatment needed for rape survivors.

“Our services have always focused on giving post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) to prevent HIV infections from the rape incident, but this is the first time we have shown with research that much more intensive support for survivors after rape is needed,” she said.

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Professor Rachel Jewkes, an executive scientist for research strategy at the SAMRC, shared similar sentiments.

“The Rice study findings show us how critically important it is for the national Department of Health to update its post-rape care policy and clinical management guidelines. This has been in abeyance for a decade and it is critical that we translate the latest research evidence, including this new finding from the Rice study, into better health services for rape survivors,” Jewkes said.

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