Needs and unmet needs for support services for recently pregnant intimate partner violence survivors in Ethiopia during the COVID-19 pandemic

Robel Yirgu, Abigiya Wondimagegnehu, Jiage Qian, Rachel Milkovich, Linnea A. Zimmerman, Michele R. Decker, Nancy Glass, Fatuma Seid, Lensa Zekarias, Shannon N. Wood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Globally, 2–14% of women experience intimate partner violence (IPV) during pregnancy. Timely response to IPV is critical to mitigate related adverse health outcomes. Barriers to accessing limited IPV support services are pervasive in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), such as Ethiopia; key barriers include mistrust, stigmatization, and self-blame, and discourage women from disclosing their experiences. Infection control measures for COVID-19 have the potential to further disrupt access to IPV services. Methods: In-depth qualitative interviews were undertaken from October-November 2020 with 24 women who experienced IPV during recent pregnancy to understand the needs and unmet needs of IPV survivors in Ethiopia amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Trained qualitative interviewers used a structured note-taking tool to allow probing of experiences, while permitting rapid analysis for timely results. Inductive thematic analysis identified emergent themes, which were organized into matrices for synthesis. Results: Qualitative themes center around knowledge of IPV services; experiences of women in seeking services; challenges in accessing services; the impact of COVID-19 on resource access; and persistent unmet needs of IPV survivors. Notably, few women discussed the violence they experienced as unique to pregnancy, with most referring to IPV over an extended period, both prior to and during COVID-19 restrictions. The majority of IPV survivors in our study heavily relied on their informal network of family and friends for protection and assistance in resolving the violence. Though formal IPV services remained open throughout the pandemic, restrictions resulted in the perception that services were not available, and this perception discouraged survivors from seeking help. Survivors further identified lack of integrated and tailored services as enduring unmet needs. Conclusions: Results reveal a persistent low awareness and utilization of formal IPV support and urge future policy efforts to address unmet needs through expansion of services by reducing socio-cultural barriers. COVID-19 impacted access to both formal and informal support systems, highlighting needs for adaptable, remote service delivery and upstream violence prevention. Public health interventions must strengthen linkages between formal and informal resources to fill the unmet needs of IPV survivors in receiving medical, psychosocial, and legal support in their home communities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number725
JournalBMC public health
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2023


  • COVID-19
  • Disclosure
  • Ethiopia
  • Intimate partner violence
  • Resources
  • Services
  • Violence response

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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