A new approach to assess the capability of health facilities to provide clinical care for sexual violence against women: A pilot study

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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Several tools have been developed to collect information on health facility preparedness to provide sexual violence response services; however, little guidance exists on how this information can be used to better understand which functions a facility can perform. Our study therefore aims to propose a set of signal functions that provide a framework for monitoring the availability of clinical sexual violence services. To illustrate the potential insights that can be gained from using our proposed signal functions, we used the framework to analyse data from a health facility census conducted in Central Province, Zambia. We collected the geographic coordinates of health facilities and police stations to assess women’s proximity to multi-sectoral sexual violence response services. We defined three key domains of clinical sexual violence response services, based on the timing of the visit to the health facility in relation to the most recent sexual assault: (1) core services, (2) immediate care, and (3) delayed and follow-up care. Combining information from all three domains, we estimate that just 3% of facilities were able to provide a comprehensive response to sexual violence, and only 16% could provide time-sensitive immediate care services such as HIV post-exposure prophylaxis and emergency contraception. Services were concentrated in hospitals, with few health centres and no health posts fulfilling the signal functions for any of the three domains. Only 23% of women lived within 15 km of comprehensive clinical sexual violence health services, and 38% lived within 15 km of immediate care. These findings point to a need to develop clear strategies for decentralizing sexual violence services to maximize coverage and ensure equity in access. Overall, our findings suggest that our proposed signal functions could be a simple and valuable approach for assessing the availability of clinical sexual violence response services, identifying areas for improvement and tracking improvements over time.