Intimate partner violence, health behaviours, and chronic physical illness among South African women
The original publication is available at http://www.samj.org.za
Objectives: An association between intimate partner violence and adverse physical health outcomes and health-risk behaviours among women has been established, most scientific research having been conducted in the USA and other developed countries. There have been few studies in developing countries, including South Africa, which has one of the highest rates of intimate partner violence in the world. We therefore sought to study the association between physical intimate partner violence and physical health outcomes and behaviours among South African women. Methods: Using data from the cross-sectional, nationally representative South African Stress and Health Study, we assessed exposure to intimate partner violence, health-risk behaviours, health-seeking behaviours and chronic physical illness among a sample of 1 229 married and cohabiting women. Results: The prevalence of reported violence was 31%. This correlated with several health-risk behaviours (smoking, alcohol consumption, and use of non-medical sedatives, analgesics and cannabis) and health-seeking behaviours (recent visits to a medical doctor or healer). Intimate partner violence was not significantly associated with chronic physical illness, although rates of headache, heart attack and high blood pressure reached near-significance. Conclusions: Partner violence against women is a significant public health problem in South Africa, associated with healthrisk behaviours and increased use of medical services. Public health programmes should incorporate interventions to mitigate the impact of violence on victims and reduce the risk of negative behavioural outcomes. Further investigation of the pathways between violence exposure and health behaviours is needed to inform the design of such programming.