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Researchers find abuse may lead to miscarriages

A study by USF researchers, based on the Cameroon Health Demographic Survey shows that women in Africa are at high risk to miscarry as a result of spousal abuse.

The survey, taken in 2006, was conducted by various international health agencies — such as the World Health Organization — along with the Cameroon government. Researchers observed more than 2,500 women between the ages of 15 and 49 over several months.

The researchers went door-to-door interviewing women in their native language, said Amina Alio, research assistant professor of community and family health. No woman who participated was put in harm’s way, she said.

Alio was allowed to access and analyze data from women in Cameroon and found that 50 percent of spousal violence toward women contributed to both single and repeated miscarriage.

In turn, one-third of all miscarriages were associated with violence, she said.

“This is important for some regions in sub-Saharan Africa where violence by a husband or partner is often not seen as a problem because of cultural beliefs that a woman belongs to her husband,” Alio said. 

Cameroon is geographically about the size of California and has a population the size of Florida’s said Ambe Njoh, a professor in the Department of Government and International Affairs at USF St. Petersburg.

Alio said the three types of abuse women experienced were physical, emotional and sexual. Sexual abuse toward women had the strongest correlation with single events of miscarriage and stillbirth, while emotional violence had the strongest correlation with repeated miscarriage and stillbirth.

However, emotional abuse is not often a concern taken into account for women.

“Emotional violence is of little importance in Africa because there is no physical evidence that can be seen (compared to) sexual and physical violence,” Alio said.

Researchers hope these findings will prompt health care providers and health policy makers to take spousal abuse more seriously — for the sake of the mother and her unborn child.

“It’s important that we pay more attention to the problem of spousal violence in Africa from a human rights standpoint as well as for the serious consequences on women’s reproductive health and babies’ lives,” Alio said.

Researchers support the idea of prenatal screening for spousal violence, especially because Africa has the highest fetal mortality  rate in the world.

Alio also said it is important that resources are created for abused women, such as counseling services and educational opportunities.

Kevin Clarke, a junior majoring in international studies, said he realizes African societies may not be as concerned about spousal abuse as are Western societies, but he doubts many Africans condone the issue.

“I believe any citizen of any African country would agree with me that such behavior is viewed as repugnant, and as neither respectable nor acceptable in any form whatsoever within African societies,” he said.

Clarke said the African governments should embark upon nation campaigns to educate the public about the severity of spousal violence and its negative, crippling effects.

Sarah Crocker, a senior smajoring in Anthropology and English literature, was surprised emotional violence had such a big impact on women.

“I would think physical abuse would cause more miscarriages,” she said.