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June 13, 2003

Pregnant Women in Developing Countries More Prone to Abuse

Four percent to 29 percent of women in developing countries experience domestic violence during pregnancy, according to research from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The researchers report that violence during pregnancy is a major public health concern, because of the high rate of pregnancy in the developing world, and they call for more research to implement preventive policies. The results of their study appear in the June 2003 issue of the European Journal of Public Health.

Khurram Nasir, MD, MPH, lead author of the study and a public health graduate student in the Department of International Health at the time the study was conducted, said, “This is a detailed study highlighting this complex issue of violence against women in developing countries. As more data become available, they will further stimulate dialogue in public health circles for specific interventions, such as screening during antenatal visits, which may be the only time when women have access to health care in developing settings. It will also encourage investigators and policy makers to conduct standardized multi-country research to document evidence, as well as to test effective interventions and generate quality evidence to support advocacy.”

The study found that an estimated 18 percent to 67 percent of women in developing countries report being physically abused; whereas 28 percent of women in developed countries report the same. In some cases, pregnancy can trigger domestic violence. The researchers found that women abused during pregnancy were often of low socioeconomic status and had a high occurrence of unwanted or unplanned pregnancies. Abused pregnant women or their male partners also had low levels of education. In addition, the men in these relationships had high levels of alcohol use.

The authors reviewed 213 previously published research papers from 1966-2001 to conduct their analysis. Only nine of the papers focused on measuring violence during pregnancy. 

The researchers said they found it challenging to draw conclusions from the few studies found on this topic. They believe that more studies are necessary to estimate the prevalence of domestic violence and determine what the risk factors and outcomes are among this vulnerable group of women in less developed areas of the world. They also said that a standardized measure that would help compare violence between different populations and studies would give researchers the data they needed to design preventative strategies. 

“The low number of studies done on violence during pregnancy clearly indicates a dearth of research on estimates of violence, risk factors, and outcomes in this vulnerable portion of the population in less developed settings,” said co-author Adnan Hyder, PhD, MPH, assistant professor and the Leon Robertson Faculty Development Chair in the School’s Department of International Health.

“Violence against pregnant women in developing countries” was published in the June 2003 issue of the European Journal of Public Health.

Public Affairs Media Contacts for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Tim Parsons or Kenna Brigham at 410-955-6878 or paffairs@jhsph.edu. Photographs of Adnan Hyder are available upon request.