MSF asks Colombian government and health care providers to guarantee comprehensive health care to victims of sexual violence
9 October 2008
Bogotá - The rate of sexual violence in Colombia is alarming. A recent study carried out by the international humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) reveals that 35 percent of their mobile clinic patients and 22 percent of patients in their fixed clinics have suffered an episode of sexual violence at least once in their lives. A victim of sexual violence needs comprehensive health services including medical and psychological care. Medical care can help prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV/AIDS and undesired pregnancies, if provided within 72 hours after the act of violence. However few victims seek health care within that time and, when they do, they are confronted with multiple obstacles, including inadequate and insufficient services. The study "Violencia Sexual en Colombia: Una mirada integral desde los proyectos de ayuda humanitaria en salud de Médicos Sin Fronteras" reveals that, although the Colombian legislation recognizes the need to provide victims of sexual violence with a minimum package of health care services, this same legislation restricts their access to health care. The first obstacles to hamper the access to health care services for victims are: embarrassment, fear for personal security, the possibility of being re-victimized and doubts about the confidentiality of services. If these obstacles are overcome and the victims choose to seek health care, they may be confronted by the lack of preparation of health care service providers. The MSF study reveals insufficient human and physical resources, insufficient supplies and a lack of necessary training to implement comprehensive health care services for victims of sexual violence. "Our experience shows that many health care workers don't know the protocols, don't rely on diagnostic tools and don't have the drugs to treat patients who are victims of sexual violence," said Dr Oscar Bernal, MSF Medical Coordinator in Colombia. Logistical and administrative difficulties and the absence of statistical data were also identified as obstacles during the course of the study. Based on our experience of working with victims of sexual violence and the results of the study, MSF requests that health care providers be better prepared to provide comprehensive health care attention to victims of sexual violence. MSF also asks the Colombian government to clarify the existing regulations that aim to assist sexual violence victims. "The regulation should indicate who is responsible for the implementation and the existing options for those people who seek health care services in the first 72 hours," says Piero Gandini, MSF General Coordinator. MSF has been in Colombia since 1985, providing basic health care, and mental, sexual and reproductive health care to populations affected by conflicts and in regions where people lack access to health services. The MSF teams are present in 13 departments in Colombia, in rural and urban areas, through fixed and mobile clinics. The programs of sexual and reproductive health care include family planning, prenatal checks, psychological support and support to victims of sexual violence.