Women in Abusive Relationships See HIV Medication as a Second Chance

MARCH 15, 2017
Caitlyn Fitzpatrick
Once low-income women received access to life-saving HIV drugs, they were more inclined to get out of abusive relationships, according to a new Johns Hopkins study.
 
“When these women who thought they were going to die realized this new treatment gave them many years to live, they faced stronger incentives to avoid abusive partners,” lead author, Nicholas Papageorge, (picture) an economist at Johns Hopkins, said in a news release.
 
When highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) was introduced in 1996, it changed HIV completely. The once death sentence of a disease suddenly became the answer to living an overall normal life. In 1994, the Women’s Interagency HIV Study began to evaluate how women, both HIV-positive and HIV-negative, acted before and after HAART became available. The study is ongoing, but Papageorge and colleagues looked at trends thus far.
 
The cohort included mostly non-Caucasian, low-income women. Overall, they had lower education and employment than the national averages.
 
The team explained that health is a form of human capital that acts as an incentive to curb risky behaviors. Study findings showed that when HAART first became available, domestic violence dropped by 10% for women with HIV, who also had symptoms of the disease, compared to healthier women with HIV. In addition, there was 15% reduction in drug use, such as crack cocaine and heroin. These decreases were even more apparent when looking at just African American women.
 
“We think the reduction happened because the women experienced a change to their expected health and longevity,” Papageorge explained. “They also experienced better prospects on the labor market.”
 
These positive changes didn’t take years to surface; according to the report, the domestic violence and drug use drops were observed immediately after women started with HAART. The researchers hypothesize that this is because better healthcare access gives women hope for a better life. Some of the data suggested that these women were not only more likely to leave violent relationships, but also more likely to avoid getting into one at all.
 
“With other domestic violence interventions, women tend to go back,” Papageorge continued. “But here the change was medical and the women decided to make it on their own – they took this second chance and ran with it.”
 
The paper, “Health, Human Capital and Domestic Violence,” can be found in the National Bureau of Economic Research. The news release and headshot were provided by Johns Hopkins University.
 
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