MANILA, 1 August 2011-Intimate partner and sexual violence against women is a major public health problem.

Many women suffer a wide range of physical, mental and reproductive health problems as a result of such violence. Moreover, a massive burden is placed on national economies due to increased expenditure on health care, law enforcement and lost productivity.

To identify and address the issues surrounding intimate partner and sexual violence in the Western Pacific Region, the WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific collaborated with WHO Headquarters and Partners for Prevention to organize a three day workshop in Manila from 18 to 20 July 2011. Policy-makers, programme managers from ministries of health, researchers and representatives from nongovernmental organizations from Kiribati, the Lao People's Democratic Republic, the Philippines, Samoa, Solomon Islands and Viet Nam participated in the workshop. The aim of the workshop is to promote a better understanding of intimate partner and sexual violence, with a special emphasis on the importance of primary prevention and improved programme planning.

"The WHO Multi-country Study on Women's Health and Domestic Violence against Women shows that the problem is widespread, with far-reaching health consequences", says Dr Ardi Kaptiningsih, WHO Regional Adviser on Women's and Reproductive Health at the Regional Office. The study collected data from over 24 000 women in 10 countries between 2000 and 2003. Lifetime prevalence rates of violence varied considerably from country to country. In Samoa, 46% of women who had ever been in a relationship reported experiencing physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner, whereas in Japan the reported rate was significantly lower at 15%.

The study has been replicated in a number of other countries in the Western Pacific Region. A similar study in Solomon Islands reported that 64% of women reported experiencing physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner, and one in two women reported being raped by their partners. In Kiribati the reported violence rate was 68%.

"The figure for Kiribati is very high, and there is a lot of work to be done", says Maere Tekanene, the Government of Kiribati's Coordinator on gender-based violence. "In our culture there is a prevailing view that violence is acceptable, especially as a form of discipline. Women are also expected to fulfill a very traditional role, subservient to the man."

Dr Claudia Garcia-Moreno, from WHO's Department of Reproductive Health and Research, pointed out that risk factors increase the likelihood of someone becoming a victim, or a perpetrator, of intimate partner and sexual violence. For example, it's been found that wife-beating is more likely in societies where men have economic and decision-making power in the household, women do not have access to divorce, adults routinely resort to violence to resolve their conflicts and all-women workgroups are absent.

There is a need for more evidence in the area of prevention to establish which methods are effective. However, there are a number of primary prevention strategies that appear promising; for example, school-based programmes to prevent relationship violence, microfinance and gender-equality training, and initiatives aimed at reducing the harmful use of alcohol. Intimate partner and sexual violence are not inevitable. Research is urgently needed to address the lack of current information on primary prevention programmes, so that effective initiatives are implemented and adapted in all countries.