McGill University education | Abused women are more likely to contract HIV

(Montreal) Women who are victims of domestic violence are three times more likely to contract the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), according to a study by a McGill University research team.

Published in the article Lancet HIV It shows a strong link between gender-based violence and HIV epidemics in some of the most affected countries. Among women living with the virus, those who had experienced domestic violence in the past year had a 10% lower risk of an undetectable viral load at the end of treatment.

“About one in four women will experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime,” says Mathieu Maheu-Giroux, a professor at McGill University and holder of the Canada Research Chair in Population Health Modelling. In some countries, more than 40% of women have been subjected to such violence in the last year.

Data shows that the most affected areas often struggle with a combined epidemic of domestic violence and HIV. In sub-Saharan Africa, the proportion of people infected with HIV in the general population is high. In the Southern African cone, several countries such as South Africa, Lesotho and Eswatini are also affected.

“In some parts of South Africa, the prevalence of the virus can be 20% to 30%. So, it can be said that one out of every five adults, even one out of every three, lives with HIV,” the researcher notes. In Canada, the rate is less than 1%.

If the impact of marital violence on HIV has been investigated for two decades, the acquisition of new data has made it possible to deepen the causal relationship between the two phenomena.

Since the early 2000s, research has only been able to identify who is living with HIV. Today, new biomarkers allow us to know whether the infection was acquired recently. Then we can determine which came first: HIV infection or violence.

Mathieu Maheu-Giroux is a professor at McGill University and holder of the Canada Research Chair in Population Health Modelling

Despite the research, the causal structure between violence and HIV remains unclear. In cases of sexual violence, the risk of damage or erosion of mucous membranes increases, which directly affects the acquisition of HIV.

On the other hand, physical violence does not directly affect the risk of contracting the virus, but it can have a major impact on mental health.

“Where we see a difference is really viral load. Mental health outcomes are thought to negatively impact treatment adherence. For example, if you don’t take your pills, the viral load can rise again,” says the professor.

UNAIDS 95% targets

To reduce the risk of transmission to partners and prolong their life, people living with HIV should adhere to retroviral treatment, which makes their viral load undetectable.

There is no cure for HIV, but the blood will be so low that laboratory tests will not detect it. Studies have shown that if HIV is not detected in the samples, the probability of its transmission to sexual partners is zero.

Mathieu Maheu-Giroux is a professor at McGill University and holder of the Canada Research Chair in Population Health Modelling

The Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, also known as UNAIDS, currently coordinates global action against the virus with the goal of ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030.

The organization’s goals are to have 95% of people living with HIV diagnosed, 95% of them on treatment, and 95% of those receiving treatment to reduce their viral load.

“Multiplier, we reach about 85% of all people living with HIV who are no longer able to spread the virus. “A number of mathematical studies say that if we reduce the number of infected people to 15%, we will be able to control the epidemic and eliminate HIV as a threat to public health,” said the researcher.

He adds that the intersection between the two epidemics calls for building “more integrated” interventions rather than having two different vertical programs.

“Because gender-based violence is widespread around the world, including in Canada, there is an urgent need to prevent domestic violence and HIV, two mutually reinforcing threats to women’s health and well-being,” concluded Salome Kuchukhidze, PhD student in epidemiology. and lead author of the article, via press release.

This article was produced with financial support from Meta Fellowships and The Canadian Press for News.

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