Background: HIV infection and intimate-partner violence share a common risk environment in much of southern Africa. The aim of the Intervention with Microfinance for AIDS and Gender Equity (IMAGE) study was to assess a structural intervention that combined a microfinance programme with a gender and HIV training curriculum.
Methods: Villages in the rural Limpopo province of South Africa were pair-matched and randomly allocated to receive the intervention at study onset (intervention group, n=4) or 3 years later (comparison group, n=4). Loans were provided to poor women who enrolled in the intervention group. A participatory learning and action curriculum was integrated into loan meetings, which took place every 2 weeks. Both arms of the trial were divided into three groups: direct programme participants or matched controls (cohort one), randomly selected 14-35-year-old household co-residents (cohort two), and randomly selected community members (cohort three). Primary outcomes were experience of intimate-partner violence--either physical or sexual--in the past 12 months by a spouse or other sexual intimate (cohort one), unprotected sexual intercourse at last occurrence with a non-spousal partner in the past 12 months (cohorts two and three), and HIV incidence (cohort three). Analyses were done on a per-protocol basis. This trial is registered with ClinicalTrials.gov, number NCT00242957.
Findings: In cohort one, experience of intimate-partner violence was reduced by 55% (adjusted risk ratio [aRR] 0.45, 95% CI 0.23-0.91; adjusted risk difference -7.3%, -16.2 to 1.5). The intervention did not affect the rate of unprotected sexual intercourse with a non-spousal partner in cohort two (aRR 1.02, 0.85-1.23), and there was no effect on the rate of unprotected sexual intercourse at last occurrence with a non-spousal partner (0.89, 0.66-1.19) or HIV incidence (1.06, 0.66-1.69) in cohort three.
Interpretation: A combined microfinance and training intervention can lead to reductions in levels of intimate-partner violence in programme participants. Social and economic development interventions have the potential to alter risk environments for HIV and intimate-partner violence in southern Africa.