Barriers and facilitators to implementing an evidence-based woman-focused intervention in South African health services


Focus Areas: Health & Wellness

Background: Since the beginning of the HIV epidemic, numerous behavior change, risk-reduction, and biomedical interventions have been developed and tested. While some of these interventions have shown to be efficacious in randomized trials, it often takes almost two decades for an intervention to be translated into practice. Meanwhile, South Africa continues to have among the highest prevalence of HIV globally, with women of childbearing age bearing the burden of the epidemic. Given the urgency of the HIV epidemic among vulnerable women in South Africa, it is imperative that evidence-based interventions be implemented rapidly into practice. This study presents a first step toward examining the acceptability and feasibility of implementing the Women’s Health CoOp (WHC) in clinics and substance abuse rehab settings in Cape Town, South Africa.

Methods: We conducted focus group discussions with women who use substances and with service providers, we also conducted in-depth interviews with health service planners. Our goal was to examine implementation and clinical outcomes associated with delivery of the WHC across clinics and substance abuse rehab programs.

Results: All participants agreed on the need for the WHC. Perceived facilitators to implementing the WHC included the recognizable need for programs to empower women and to build the capacity of staff to address issues of substance use, sexual risk, and intimate partner violence. Participants also identified potential barriers to women engaging with this program, including the stigma women experience when seeking services and the lack of person-centered care at healthcare facilities.

Conclusions: In a country with the largest number of women of childbearing age living with HIV, an evidence-based woman-focused intervention that comprehensively addresses women’s risk for suboptimal antiretroviral adherence may be essential for reducing HIV incidence. However, potential barriers to implementing the WHC successfully must be addressed before the program can be fully integrated into the services delivered by healthcare facilities.

Howard, B. N., Van Dorn, R., Myers, B. J., Zule, W. A., Browne, F. A., Carney, T., & Wechsberg, W. M. (2017). Barriers and facilitators to implementing an evidence-based woman-focused intervention in South African health services. BMC Health Services Research, 17(1), 746. DOI: 10.1186/s12913-017-2669-2


Wendee Wechsberg

“We must listen to the communities, the local people, to understand culturally what is going to fit and what is going to be the language of the research, and not just say we know what to do here.”

Felicia Browne

"I am so grateful to have the opportunity to work on applied, gender-focused projects in the community in which I grew up, in hopes of having an impact on HIV, STIs and other health outcomes among African-American adolescent girls and young women."