Sexual violence against women & girls in Uganda increased during the COVID-19 pandemic
Reports of rape and sexual violence increased among women and girls in Uganda during the COVID-19 pandemic, while uptake of post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) decreased. These outcomes, reported to the 11th International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Science (IAS 2021, suggest that Ugandan women and girls may have had increased HIV exposure during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic is associated with increased gender-based violence perpetration. In Uganda, COVID-19 restrictions caused a lapse in gender-based violence services, which were not initially prioritized as essential health services during COVID-19 restrictions.
Rose Apondi of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and colleagues analyzed routine programme data to compare outcomes of six-month periods before (October 2019 to March 2020) and during (April 2020 to September 2020) the COVID-19 pandemic. The team reviewed post-rape reports and uptake of PEP (emergency treatment to prevent HIV infection) for women and girls of all ages from routine health records, as well as reports of sexual violence and teen pregnancy among girls under 18 to the Uganda Child Helpline.
In the six months before COVID-19, 593 girls under the age of 18 reported sexual violence compared to 860 girls in six months during COVID-19. The odds of reporting sexual violence were 1.3 times higher (CI 95%, 1.12-1.51) during COVID-19 compared to the preceding six months. There was also a 17% increase in reported teen pregnancy during the pandemic; however, this was not statistically significant.
Gender-based and sexual violence often go unreported, so the actual increases may have been higher, since this study relied on reports to healthcare workers or a helpline. The authors call for flexible and adaptive gender-based violence services to be prioritized during pandemics, especially during lockdowns