Researchers said one in seven new HIV infections could be averted if women were not subjected to physical and sexual abuse or relationships inequalities.
In a randomised trial they studied 1 099 HIV negative women in South Africa. Women were tested once over a period of two years. Face to face interviews were conducted with women to assess exposure to gender based violence and inequality in their relationships.
Results showed that women in relationships with low equality at the start of the study had higher incidence of HIV compared to those with more relationship power. Additionally, those who reported more than one incidence of abuse were likely to be infected compared to those with less.
Up to 51 of the 325 women relationships with less equality had higher incidence of infection compared to the73 out of 704 who reported gender equality. At least, 45 of the 253 women who reported more abuse had a higher incidence of HIV compared to the 83 of the 846 who reported less abuse.
Researchers found that addressing gender inequalities could prevent 13,9% of new HIV infections. About 11,9% of new infections could be prevented if women were not subjected to physical and sexual abuse by their partners.
‘This study provides strong temporal evidence to support a causal association between intimate partner violence or relationship inequity and HIV infection. Replicating this association in the context of trials to assess effective interventions should be a priority,’ the researchers said.
They urged organisations heading HIV prevention messaging for women such as the Joint Partnership for AIDS and the World Health Organisation to ensure that policies, programmes and interventions to enforce gender equality and prevent partner violence were developed and widely implemented.
‘Donors and researchers must invest in efforts and resources in developing and testing new interventions,’ they said.
Jay Silverman of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston said the findings highlighted the importance of altering gender based abusive behavior and reducing sexual risk behavior in men to prevent HIV transmission to women.