Emotional and physical abuses were the most commonly reported forms of IPV, followed by sexual abuse. Most victims, however, experienced multiple types of abuse (n = 98, 71.5%), on average disclosing 2.6 forms of abuse.
There were no significant differences in age, the time elapsed since engaging into HIV care, or living arrangement between victims of IPV and nonvictims after adjusting for cofounders. There were, however, significant ethnic disparities in the prevalence of IPV (P < 0001). Aboriginal and white women reported the highest prevalence of IPV at 65.0% and 61.4%, respectively, whereas black women (92.0% of whom had migrated from Sub-Saharan Africa) reported IPV less frequently at 22.1%.
Overall, most women reported cohabitating with at least one other person (81.0%) and renting or owning their residence (95.7%). IPV was, however, independently associated with unstable housing [adjusted prevalence ratio (APR) = 4.49, CI: 1.14 to 17.74].
A history of IPV significantly predicted recent use of illicit substances (APR = 7.58, CI: 2.45 to 23.26; Table 3). Women who disclosed IPV were also more likely to be current smokers (APR = 5.07, CI: 1.19 to 9.68) or have a history of previous smoking (APR = 3.39, CI: 1.19 to 9.68). IPV was not a predictor of recent excessive alcohol use. Of note, 19 of the 25 women with a history of incarceration reported IPV (APR = 4.84, CI: 1.85 to 12.68).
Before HIV diagnosis, a higher rate of depression requiring medical therapy was noted in women disclosing IPV (APR = 1.87, CI: 1.10 to 3.16). The prevalence of a preexisting anxiety disorder was also much higher among those with IPV (APR = 5.75, CI: 2.10 to 15.63). Furthermore, although numbers were small, IPV was a strong predictor of a suicide attempt before HIV diagnosis (APR = 53.86, CI: 5.21 to 556.48). We did not find a difference noted in usage of specialized psychiatric resources, however, use of general psychiatric services not specializing in HIV could not be evaluated in this study.
Health-Related Quality of Life
Women in HIV care reporting past or present IPV had a significantly worse HRQoL (P = 0.006 for trend), reporting poor or fair health 2.94 times (1.40 to 6.16) more commonly than very good or excellent health.
Women who reported IPV were more likely to have been diagnosed with HIV earlier in the course of infection, defined by CD4 count (CD4 >500 vs. CD4 <200; APR = 4.33, CI: 1.11 to 16.95). There were no detectable differences in reasons for testing after adjusting for cofounders.
Interruptions in care (ie, LFTU for ≥365 days) were more common among those reporting IPV compared with those not reporting IPV in the adjusted (APR = 1.90, CI: 1.07 to 3.39) and unadjusted analyses: 20.4% versus 11.9% (P = 0.006).
Despite having similar CD4 counts at the time of IPV screening (P = 0.95), patients disclosing IPV were 45% less likely to be using ART (APR = 0.55, CI: 0.34 to 0.91) and 2.10 (1.23 to 3.58) times more likely to have uncontrolled viral replication ≥500 copies/mL.
Hospitalization rates were higher for women disclosing IPV at 256 (223 to 292) per 1000 patient-years compared with 166 (143 to 193) among those not disclosing IPV (P < 0.001; Table 4). Most of these hospitalizations were unrelated to HIV (relative risk = 1.42, CI: 1.16 to 1.73); however, HIV-related hospitalizations were also borderline significantly higher than in women with no experience of IPV (P = 0.070). After the patient was engaged into routine HIV care, however, HIV-related hospitalizations were much higher in women who had experienced IPV (relative risk = 2.19, CI: 1.01 to 4.85) suggesting less successful uptake of HIV care.
IPV is common in our population of HIV-positive women with more than 40% disclosing past or present IPV. The prevalence may, in reality, be even higher, as others have reported that many women who experience IPV do not interpret their experiences as IPV, often minimizing their situation.15 Population-based studies in general North American populations report a lifetime prevalence of IPV of 19%–35% among women.16–18
Particularly, high rates of IPV among Aboriginals, both HIV-positive and HIV-negative, have been identified previously,6,16,19 and may be related to their disadvantaged socioeconomic status.20 However, the equally high prevalence of victimization among white women has not been previously reported and may reflect the effect of the overlap of risk factors for HIV infection and IPV among white women in Canada, such as risky sexual behavior and illicit drug use. Relatively, lower rates of IPV have been reported among recent immigrants and may explain the low rates of IPV that we observed among black patients, most of whom recently migrated to Canada from Sub-Saharan Africa.6,21 However, this was not corroborated by a recent study of HIV-positive women in the United Kingdom.7 This discrepancy in prevalence may be explained by real differences or perhaps differences in recognizing and reporting IPV among different populations.
The negative health implications of IPV observed among HIV-positive women are, in many ways, similar to those observed among HIV-positive gay and bisexual men in our region.19 However, as there are very different societal and relationship dynamics involved, a distinct consideration of the outcomes is required.
IPV was associated with high rates of depression and anxiety in our study, similar to studies of HIV-negative populations.22 Those reporting IPV were also much more likely to have attempted suicide, which is the strongest predictor of future attempts.23 Psychiatric illness unrelated to IPV strongly predicts poor HIV outcomes.24
There was a high degree of illicit substance abuse and smoking among women who have experienced IPV. The relationship between substance abuse and IPV may be complex and bidirectional; however, helping patients address IPV in a constructive manner may also mitigate morbidity and mortality from illicit substance use25 and smoking.26 Illicit drug use is also predictive of poor retention in HIV care and may play a role in the poor retention associated with IPV in our study.27
Patients who experienced IPV were diagnosed with HIV earlier in the course of their disease (with a higher CD4 count), which is likely explained by increased contact with the medical system for related and unrelated complaints.6,28 While early diagnosis of HIV is a very strong predictor of superior HIV-related outcomes,29 those with IPV still had a worse prognosis despite their earlier diagnosis. Women disclosing IPV experienced twice as many hospitalizations for HIV-related diseases despite the benefit from an earlier diagnosis and early connection to HIV outpatient care. Furthermore, IPV was strongly associated with lower levels of HRQoL,13 even after adjusting for confounders, strengthening the above evidence that HIV-positive women who have experienced IPV also experience worse health.
There is a survival benefit associated with good engagement in care, not only because of increased adherence to and monitoring of ART but also because patients can receive treatment for medical and psychiatric comorbidities. The poor HIV-related outcomes seen in our study among women experiencing IPV are likely related directly to interruptions in care, which is a well-described predictor of HIV-related mortality.30–33 By directly addressing IPV, we may support adherence to care and thereby improve outcomes. HIV-positive patients experiencing IPV face multiple barriers to adequate engagement in care, such as the immediate threats to the safety of themselves and their dependents, which in turn requires less imminent threats, such as HIV infection, to fall in priority. Many may also experience IPV as a consequence of HIV infection and its disclosure. As such, these women may be risking violent repercussions by engaging in care.12 Our study supports this hypothesis, as women who experienced IPV found it more difficult to remain engaged in HIV care.
The idea that HIV-positive women experiencing IPV have worse outcomes because of poor engagement in care is further supported by the finding that women disclosing IPV were less likely to be receiving ART and more likely to have uncontrolled viral replication, both of which negatively affect medical outcomes.34 Similar barriers that exist for regular clinic follow-up described above also exist for ART adherence and maintaining controlled viral replication: victims of IPV may be prioritizing immediate personal safety over regular adherence to ART and the erratic nature of their day-to-day lives in itself may preclude their ability to follow regular ART dosing regimens. This lower level of ART use may partially account for the increased number of HIV-related hospitalizations seen among women experiencing IPV after engaging into care. Given that the increased risk of HIV-related hospitalizations occurs after an initial contact with HIV outpatient care, IPV may be amenable to focused intervention by primary HIV caregivers. Specifically, a primary objective should be to increase retention in care by developing safe and trustworthy relationships with HIV-positive women and increase ART adherence among patients disclosing IPV, which will, in turn, improve outcomes.
Our study has some limitations. It was conducted in a diverse population of HIV-positive women in Canada but may not entirely reflect populations elsewhere. The study also used a cross-sectional and retrospective approach, and thus, causality should be interpreted with caution. The use of a single question IPV screen, while being practical and specific, may not be as sensitive for different aspects of IPV as longer more detailed screening questionnaires. In a large systematic review, however, multiple screening questions were reported to be no more sensitive for general screening than a single question.15 In contrast to in-depth surveys, the single question was easily adapted to routine clinical practice and was well received by patients and staff.
Health care practitioners and victims of IPV alike may not be fully aware of the direct and indirect impacts of IPV on health and health-seeking behaviors. It is therefore necessary to address this important social determinant of health systematically in HIV-positive women. HIV clinics provide the optimal environment for addressing this sensitive issue because the long-term health care practitioner–patient relationship builds trust and allows for ongoing follow-up. Identification of IPV in the clinical HIV setting can assist the patient in addressing the issue (through appropriate referrals to specialized agencies or allied health care workers) and in managing the underlying barriers to optimal follow-up. Ultimately, this may improve the patient's safety (and that of any children in her care), reduce current IPV, while increasing the efficacy of clinical interventions and improve health outcomes.
We have identified a 40% prevalence of IPV among a population of HIV-positive women. A history of childhood abuse, incarceration, illicit substance abuse, smoking, and psychiatric disease all independently predicted past or present IPV. Women with a history of IPV were more often hospitalized for both HIV-related and HIV-unrelated causes, which markedly increased after initiating outpatient care. Victims also had decreased HRQoL. This worse prognosis for HIV-positive victims of IPV was mediated through poor retention in care and may therefore be amenable to meaningful interventions.
The identification of IPV as a common and negative social determinant of health in HIV-positive women opens up the opportunity to develop targeted interventions that address the effects of this destructive social behavior. Such interventions might help these women engage in HIV care, improve quality of life, and improve health outcomes.
The authors thank the HIV care staff in Southern Alberta for working so passionately to ensure a successful domestic violence screening program.
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Keywords:© 2013 by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins
domestic violence; intimate partner violence; violence against women; gender-based violence; retention in care; social determinants of health