Intimate partner violence: How should health systems respond?

Kate Rees, Virginia Zweigenthal, Kate Joyner


Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a common and serious public health concern, worldwide and in South Africa. Exposure to IPV leads to wide-ranging and serious health effects, and there is evidence that intervening for IPV in primary healthcare settings can improve outcomes. World Health Organization guidelines for responding to IPV and sexual violence recommend enquiring about violence when relevant in healthcare encounters and providing women-centred care. Women who have experienced IPV have described an appropriate response by healthcare providers to be non-judgemental, understanding and empathetic. Despite this, the evidence base informing the scale-up of IPV interventions and their integration into health systems is lacking. Further evaluations of health sector responses to IPV are needed to assist health services to determine the most appropriate models of care and how these can be integrated into current systems. The need for this research should not prevent health systems and healthcare providers from implementing IPV care, but rather should guide the development of rigorous, contextually appropriate evaluations. There is also an urgent need for policies and protocols that clearly frame IPV as an important health issue and support healthcare providers in enquiring about and responding to IPV.

Authors' affiliations

Kate Rees, Division of Public Health, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, South Africa

Virginia Zweigenthal, Division of Public Health, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, South Africa

Kate Joyner, Nursing Division, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Tygerberg, Cape Town, South Africa

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Intimate partner violence; Domestic violence; Gender-based violence; Women's health; Health systems

Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2014;104(8):556-557. DOI:10.7196/SAMJ.8511

Article History

Date submitted: 2014-05-31
Date published: 2014-06-20

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