South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC)
Building a healthy nation through research and innovation

Media statement

19 August 2014

SAMRC and RTI partner to address tri-faceted epidemic in the Western Cape

HIV, substance abuse and gender-based violence

The South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) and international non-profit organization RTI will co-host a policy impact forum to address the state of key populations at risk of HIV, substance abuse and gender-based violence in the Western Cape. The forum, which takes place today at the President Hotel in Cape Town South Africa, will also see the SAMRC, together with key stakeholders evaluate the findings from two prevention studies conducted in the area.  

According to locally conducted research, the intersection of sexual risk, substance abuse and gender-based violence, as well as difficulties in accessing health services underpinned by the context of poverty drives risk of HIV acquisition among substance-using populations.  The forum will discuss the findings from this research, which have successfully demonstrated HIV risk reduction through a decline in alcohol and drug use, reduced victimisation of women, and decreased sexual risk through behaviours such as increased condom usage, and assess how we can translate these findings for greater impact. 

The results from the Couples Health CoOp (CHC) demonstrate that much more work needs to be done to link substance-using women to substance abuse treatment programmes, victimization support, and income generation opportunities to empower them to address their substance use. 

Similarly, results from the Couples Health CoOp (CHC) study show that men who received this intervention together with their main relationship partner were less likely to drink heavily and were more likely to report protected sex than men in the control groups.  This translated into a 33% reduction in HIV acquisition amongst women. 

These studies demonstrate that through evidence-based interventions that reduce substance use, violence and sexual risk behavior, we have the ability to impact on HIV acquisition rates in high-risk populations. What is needed now is a coordinated effort to make these interventions widely available.

“It is striking that behavior based interventions aimed at reducing alcohol and substance abuse use impacts sexual practices and has the possibility of reducing HIV infection in women.  Translating these findings into action is critical”, said SAMRC President, Prof Glenda Gray. 

The forum, titled: “In the trenches with drug-using women and couples: key populations most at-risk for HIV in Cape Town, South Africa” will be attended by local and international researchers, academics, and policy makers. The forum will be chaired by SAMRC President Professor Glenda Gray and the panel will consist of Provincial Minister for Social Development in the Western Cape Minister Albert Fritz; Chief Specialist at SAMRC’s Alcohol Tobacco and Other Drugs Research Unit Professor Bronwyn Myers; Director of Substance Abuse Treatment Evaluations and Interventions at RTI Dr Wendee Wechsberg.

Media Facilitation
Keletso Ratsela
South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC)          
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