In South Africa, a woman is killed every three hours and according to the World Health Organisation, is five times more likely to be a victim of femicide than her global counterpart. As we mark the ‘16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children’, the SA Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (SASOG), would like to call its members to action. The call to go beyond activism is also extended to all other clinicians treating potential female, child and male victims.
The society, which represents specialists in the public and private health sectors, condemns any discrimination, harassment or violence based on gender or vulnerability and has implemented an action plan that includes the use of international guidelines for the health professional on detection and appropriate clinical and emotional support for women who have experienced GBV.
For obstetricians, these guidelines will assist in identifying and supporting pregnant women who are victims of Intimate Partner Violence. During pregnancy, a woman is particularly vulnerable – physically, emotionally and financially. IPV, which includes intimidation, verbal and physical abuse, poses a risk both to the mother and to the life, health and security of the unborn child who will often become a victim of domestic violence later in life.
SASOG president, Professor Greta Dreyer, explains that the stigma associated with GBV and the fear of being victimised means that fewer than 40% of women will seek help of any kind and fewer than 10% will seek help from the criminal justice system. “This places the responsibility on medical practitioners to identify, acknowledge, support and treat women in abusive relationships”. SASOG’s guidelines include an assessment by the physician on whether the patient or her children are in immediate danger and, if so, to assist in establishing a safety plan.
World Aids Day also serves as a reminder of the junction between HIV and GBV and points to research conducted by Jewkes and colleagues outlining the significant impact of GBV on South Africa:
An estimated 16% of all HIV infections in women could be prevented if women did not experience domestic violence from their partners;
Women who have been raped are at risk of unwanted pregnancy, HIV and other sexually transmitted infections;
Approximately 1.75m people annually seek health care from South African Health care facilities for injuries resulting from violence; and
Over a third of women who have been raped develop post-traumatic stress disorder, which if left untreated persists in the long term. Depression, suicide and substance abuse are common consequences.
“As a society, SASOG is committed to the improvement of women’s health and excellence in clinical care and believes that this must be a journey in partnership with colleagues in many other sections in social services and health care. It is incumbent on all clinicians to be aware of the signs and symptoms of GBV and to provide assistance to their patients to break the cycle of violence”, concludes Dreyer.
Issued by Heidi Kruger at Outlook for the South African Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (SASOG)