All girls and women being treated for HIV should also be screened for intimate partner violence, according to a new directive by the Ministry of Health.
Guidelines on the Use of Antiretroviral Drugs for Treating and Preventing HIV in Kenya provide that screening for intimate partner violence be included in the standard package for people living with HIV.
National data shows that almost 50 per cent of women aged 15 to 49 years have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime.
With the new guidelines, it is hoped that women in abusive marriages will be identified and assisted out of their predicament.
“Resources for supporting patients who have experienced violence are increasing in Kenya, but the first step is to identify patients who require this support. Basic screening questions have been found to be acceptable to patients and healthcare workers if the provider shows a respectful attitude and when confidentiality is assured,” the document reads.
Sample questions in the guideline include queries on whether the patient was threatened, forced into sexual acts, abused or assaulted.
“Many people do not realise that violence can lead to health problems. Because violence is so common in many women’s lives, and because there is help available for women being abused, we now ask all female patients about their experiences with violence,” says the guideline.
“If a patient gives a positive answer to any of these questions, identify if they are in a relationship with the perpetrator and provide them with some immediate counselling support. This includes supportive messages that will assist with problem-solving if they are currently in an abusive relationship,” says the document.
“Refer such cases to the nearest Gender-based Violence Recovery Centre or to a mental healthcare team for further assessment and counselling.”
Supportive messages for those affected include assurances that it was not their fault, and that there is available assistance to help them deal with the current difficulty.
Gender-based violence survivors will also be given the option of being assisted to contact the police or local administration if they feel they are in any immediate danger.
The guideline also provides for men, the elderly and children to be screened for violence.
“Men, the elderly, and children may also suffer domestic abuse and should be assessed if there is any suspicion by health staff attending to them. For children, screening is best done by observing the child when playing, drawing, conversing and telling stories,” the document states.
Other vulnerable people identified for screening include men who have sex with men, transgender women and prisoners, who make up key populations that are at high risk of being infected with HIV.