Rape and ARV uptake/adherence

Impact of sexual trauma on HIV care engagement: perspectives of female patients with trauma histories in Cape Town, South Africa.

Watt MH, Dennis AC, Choi KW, Ciya N, Joska JA, Robertson C, Sikkema KJ. AIDS Behav. 2016 Nov 19. [Epub ahead of print]

South African women have disproportionately high rates of both sexual trauma and HIV. To understand how sexual trauma impacts HIV care engagement, we conducted in-depth qualitative interviews with 15 HIV-infected women with sexual trauma histories, recruited from a public clinic in Cape Town. Interviews explored trauma narratives, coping behaviors and care engagement, and transcripts were analyzed using a constant comparison method. Participants reported multiple and complex traumas across their lifetimes. Sexual trauma hindered HIV care engagement, especially immediately following HIV diagnosis, and there were indications that sexual trauma may interfere with future care engagement, via traumatic stress symptoms including avoidance. Disclosure of sexual trauma was limited; no woman had disclosed to an HIV provider. Routine screening for sexual trauma in HIV care settings may help to identify individuals at risk of poor care engagement. Efficacious treatments are needed to address the psychological and behavioral sequelae of trauma.

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Editor’s notes: Few studies have examined the impact of violence exposure on ART uptake and adherence. There is also a paucity of studies from low- and middle-income countries. South African women face a dual burden of HIV and violence risk, especially in areas characterized by extreme poverty, substance abuse and gender inequality. This study used qualitative interviews with 15 women living with HIV with histories of sexual trauma and attending an HIV-treatment clinic. The authors explore the intersections between sexual trauma experience, HIV infection and engagement with HIV care services.

Women reported complex sexual trauma histories, with repeated abuse from childhood into adulthood. This abuse was usually from family members or ‘lovers’. Sexual violence was usually accompanied by physical and emotional abuse. Women described symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. Many associated their HIV infection with their sexual trauma / abusive relationship(s). For some, the HIV diagnosis and taking treatment reminded them of their rape and triggered feelings of shame. Women described their sexual violence experience as more stressful and shameful than their HIV status. None had disclosed their trauma history to their HIV care provider. The findings from this study suggest that women with a sexual trauma history may have poorer uptake and adherence to ARVs than women without. Additional research is necessary in low- and middle-income countries to explore this further. There is insufficient support and counselling services for women who have experienced sexual trauma and other abuse. Implementing such services may relieve symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression and support ART uptake and adherence. 

South Africa
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