Intimate partner violence (IPV) violates women's human rights, and it is a serious public health concern associated with increased HIV risk. SASA!, a phased community mobilization intervention, engages communities to prevent IPV and promote gender equity. The SASA! study assessed the community-level impact of SASA! on reported HIV-related risk behaviours and relationship dynamics.
Data were collected as part of a cluster randomized controlled trial conducted between 2007 and 2012 in eight communities in Kampala. An adjusted cluster-level intention to treat analysis, compares secondary outcomes in intervention and control communities at follow-up. The qualitative evaluation explored participants' subjective experience of SASA!. A total of 82 in-depth interviews were audio recorded at follow-up, transcribed verbatim and analyzed using thematic analysis.
Men in intervention communities were significantly more likely than controls to report a broad range of HIV-protective behaviours, including higher levels of condom use (aRR 2.03, 95% CI 1.22-3.39), HIV testing (aRR 1.50, 95% CI 1.13-2.00) and fewer concurrent partners (aRR 0.60, 95% CI 0.37-0.97). They were also more likely to report increased joint decision-making (aRR 1.92, 95% CI 1.27-2.91), greater male participation in household tasks (aRR 1.48, 95% CI 1.09-2.01), more open communication and greater appreciation of their partner's work inside (aRR 1.31, 95% CI 1.04-1.66) and outside (aRR 1.49, 95% CI 1.08-2.06) the home. For women, all outcomes were in the hypothesized direction, but effect sizes were smaller. Only some achieved statistical significance. Women in intervention communities were significantly more likely to report being able to refuse sex with their partners (aRR 1.16, 95% CI 1.00-1.35), joint decision-making (aRR 1.37, 95% CI 1.06-1.78) and more open communication on a number of indicators. Qualitative interviews suggest that shifts operated through broader improvements in relationships, including increased trust and cooperation, participants' greater awareness of the connections between HIV and IPV and their resultant desire to improve their relationships. Barriers to change include partial uptake of SASA!, partner resistance, fear and entrenched previous beliefs.
SASA! impacted positively on reported HIV-related risk behaviours and relationship dynamics at a community level, especially among men. Social change programmes focusing on IPV and gender equity could play an important role in HIV prevention efforts.