War related sexual violence and it’s medical and psychological consequences as seen in Kitgum, Northern Uganda: A cross-sectional study
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Background: Despite the recent adoption of the UN resolution 1820 (2008) which calls for the cessation of war related sexual violence against civilians in conflict zones, Africa continues to see some of the worst cases of war related sexual violence including the mass sexual abuse of entire rural communities particularly in the Great Lakes region. In addition to calling for a complete halt to this abuse, there is a need for the systematic study of the reproductive, surgical and psychological effects of war related sexual violence in the African socio-cultural setting. This paper examines the specific long term health consequences of war related sexual violence among rural women living in two internally displaced person’s camps in Kitgum district in war affected Northern Uganda who accessed the services of an Isis-Women’s International Cross Cultural Exchange (Isis-WICCE) medical intervention. Methods: The study employed a purposive cross-sectional study design where 813 respondents were subjected to a structured interview as part of a screening procedure for an emergency medical intervention to identify respondents who required psychological, gynaecological and surgical treatment. Results: Over a quarter (28.6%) of the women (n= 573) reported having suffered at least one form of war related sexual violence. About three quarters of the respondents had ‘at least one gynaecological complaint’ (72.4%) and ‘at least one surgical complaint’ (75.6%), while 69.4% had significant psychological distress scores (scores of ≥ 6 on the WHO SRQ-20). The factors that were significantly associated with war related sexual violence were the age group of ≤ 44 years, being Catholic, having suffered other war related physical trauma, and having ‘at least one gynaecological complaint’. The specific gynaecological complaints significantly associated with war related sexual violence were infertility, chronic lower abdominal pain, abnormal vaginal bleeding, and sexual dysfunction. In a multivariable analysis the age group of ≤ 44 years, being Catholic and having ‘at least one gynaecological complaint’ remained significantly associated with war related sexual violence. Conclusion: The results from this study demonstrate that war related sexual violence is independently associated with the later development of specific gynaecological complaints.