Missed treatment opportunities and barriers to comprehensive treatment for sexual violence survivors in Kenya: a mixed methods study

BMC Public Health. 2018 Jun 19;18(1):769. doi: 10.1186/s12889-018-5681-5.


Background: In Kenya, most sexual violence survivors either do not access healthcare, access healthcare late or do not complete treatment. To design interventions that ensure optimal healthcare for survivors, it is important to understand the characteristics of those who do and do not access healthcare. In this paper, we aim to: compare the characteristics of survivors who present for healthcare to those of survivors reporting violence on national surveys; understand the healthcare services provided to survivors; and, identify barriers to treatment.

Methods: A mixed methods approach was used. Hospital records for survivors from two referral hospitals were compared with national-level data from the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey 2014, and the Violence Against Children Survey 2010. Descriptive summaries were calculated and differences in characteristics of the survivors assessed using chi-square tests. Qualitative data from six in-depth interviews with healthcare providers were analysed thematically.

Results: Among the 543 hospital respondents, 93.2% were female; 69.5% single; 71.9% knew the perpetrator; and 69.2% were children below 18 years. Compared to respondents disclosing sexual violence in nationally representative datasets, those who presented at hospital were less likely to be partnered, male, or assaulted by an intimate partner. Data suggest missed opportunities for treatment among those who did present to hospital: HIV PEP and other STI prophylaxis was not given to 30 and 16% of survivors respectively; 43% of eligible women did not receive emergency contraceptive; and, laboratory results were missing in more than 40% of the records. Those aged 18 years or below and those assaulted by known perpetrators were more likely to miss being put on HIV PEP. Qualitative data highlighted challenges in accessing and providing healthcare that included stigma, lack of staff training, missing equipment and poor coordination of services.

Conclusions: Nationally, survivors at higher risk of not accessing healthcare include older survivors; partnered or ever partnered survivors; survivors experiencing sexual violence from intimate partners; children experiencing violence in schools; and men. Interventions at the community level should target survivors who are unlikely to access healthcare and address barriers to early access to care. Staff training and specific clinical guidelines/protocols for treating children are urgently needed.

Keywords: HIV PEP-Kenya; Healthcare; Sexual violence.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Health Care Surveys
  • Health Services Accessibility*
  • Humans
  • Kenya
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Sex Offenses*
  • Survivors / psychology*
  • Survivors / statistics & numerical data
  • Young Adult