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J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 2015 Jun 1;69 Suppl 2:S118-27. doi: 10.1097/QAI.0000000000000626.

Targeting the SAVA (Substance Abuse, Violence, and AIDS) Syndemic Among Women and Girls: A Global Review of Epidemiology and Integrated Interventions.

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*Social Intervention Group, Columbia University School of Social Work, New York, NY; †Division of Global Public Health, Department of Medicine, University of California, San Diego, CA; ‡The Gordon Derner Institute of Advanced Psychological Studies, Adelphi University, New York, NY; §Global Health Center of Central Asia, School of Social Work, Columbia University Almaty, Kazakhstan; and ‖Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles, CA.



Multiple pathways link gender-based violence (GBV) to HIV and other sexually transmitted infections among women and girls who use or inject drugs. The aim of this article is to synthesize global literature that examines associations among the synergistic epidemics of substance abuse, violence, and HIV/AIDS, known as the SAVA syndemic. It also aims to identify a continuum of multilevel integrated interventions that target key SAVA syndemic mechanisms.


We conducted a selective search strategy, prioritizing use of meta-analytic epidemiological and intervention studies that address different aspects of the SAVA syndemic among women and girls who use drugs worldwide from 2000 to 2015 using PubMed, MEDLINE, and Google Scholar.


Robust evidence from different countries suggests that GBV significantly increases the risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections among women and girls who use drugs. Multiple structural, biological, and behavioral mechanisms link GBV and HIV among women and girls. Emerging research has identified a continuum of brief and extended multilevel GBV prevention and treatment interventions that may be integrated into a continuum of HIV prevention, testing, and treatment interventions to target key SAVA syndemic mechanisms among women and girls who use drugs.


There remain significant methodological and geographical gaps in epidemiological and intervention research on the SAVA syndemic, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. This global review underscores the need to advance a continuum of multilevel integrated interventions that target salient mechanisms of the SAVA syndemic, especially for adolescent girls, young women, and transgender women who use drugs.

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