Recognizing intimate partner violence in primary care : Western Cape, South Africa

Joyner, Kate ; Mash, Robert (2012-01)

Publication of this article was funded by the Stellenbosch University Open Access Fund.

The original publication is available at


Introduction: Interpersonal violence in South Africa is the second highest contributor to the burden of disease after HIV/ AIDS and 62% is estimated to be from intimate partner violence (IPV). This study aimed to evaluate how women experiencing IPV present in primary care, how often IPV is recognized by health care practitioners and what other diagnoses are made. Methods: At two urban and three rural community health centres, health practitioners were trained to screen all women for IPV over a period of up to 8 weeks. Medical records of 114 thus identified women were then examined and their reasons for encounter (RFE) and diagnoses over the previous 2-years were coded using the International Classification of Primary Care. Three focus group interviews were held with the practitioners and interviews with the facility managers to explore their experience of screening. Results: IPV was previously recognized in 11 women (9.6%). Women presented with a variety of RFE that should raise the index of suspicion for IPV– headache, request for psychiatric medication, sleep disturbance, tiredness, assault, feeling anxious and depressed. Depression was the commonest diagnosis. Interviews identified key issues that prevented health practitioners from screening. Conclusion: This study demonstrated that recognition of women with IPV is very low in South African primary care and adds useful new information on how women present to ambulatory health services. These findings offer key cues that can be used to improve selective case finding for IPV in resource-poor settings. Universal screening was not supported by this study.

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