Effectiveness of the Common Elements Treatment Approach (CETA) in reducing intimate partner violence and hazardous alcohol use in Zambia (VATU): A randomized controlled trial

Author(s)Laura K. Murray

by Laura K. Murray, Jeremy C. Kane, Nancy Glass, Stephanie Skavenski van Wyk, Flor Melendez, Ravi Paul, Carla Kmett Danielson, Sarah M. Murray, John Mayeya, Francis Simenda, Paul Bolton


Both intimate partner violence (IPV) and alcohol misuse are highly prevalent, and partner alcohol misuse is a significant contributor to women’s risk for IPV.

There are few evidence-based interventions to address these problems in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). We evaluated the effectiveness of an evidence-based, multi-problem, flexible, transdiagnostic intervention, the Common Elements Treatment Approach (CETA) in reducing (a) women’s experience of IPV and (b) their male partner’s alcohol misuse among couples in urban Zambia.

Methods and findings

This was a single-blind, parallel-assignment randomized controlled trial in Lusaka, Zambia. Women who reported moderate or higher levels of IPV and their male partners with hazardous alcohol use were enrolled as a couple and randomized to CETA or treatment as usual plus safety checks (TAU-Plus).

The primary outcome, IPV, was assessed by the Severity of Violence Against Women Scale (SVAWS) physical/sexual violence subscale, and the secondary outcome, male alcohol misuse, by the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT). Assessors were blinded. Analyses were intent-to-treat.

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Primary outcome assessments were planned at post-treatment, 12 months post-baseline, and 24 months post-baseline. Enrollment was conducted between May 23, 2016, and December 17, 2016. In total, 123 couples were randomized to CETA, 125 to TAU-Plus.

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The majority of female (66%) and a plurality of male (48%) participants were between 18 and 35 years of age. Mean reduction in IPV (via SVAWS subscale score) at 12 months post-baseline was statistically significantly greater among women who received CETA compared to women who received TAU-Plus (−8.2, 95% CI −14.9 to −1.5, p = 0.02, Cohen’s d effect size = 0.49). Similarly, mean reduction in AUDIT score at 12 months post-baseline was statistically significantly greater among men who received CETA compared to men who received TAU (−4.5, 95% CI −6.9 to −2.2, p d effect size = 0.43).

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The Data and Safety Monitoring Board recommended the trial be stopped early due to treatment effectiveness following the 12-month post-baseline assessment, and CETA was offered to control participants. Limitations of the trial included the lack of a true control condition (i.e., that received no intervention), self-reported outcomes that may be subject to social desirability bias, and low statistical power for secondary IPV outcomes.


Results showed that CETA was more effective than TAU-Plus in reducing IPV and hazardous alcohol use among high-risk couples in Zambia. Future research and programming should include tertiary prevention approaches to IPV, such as CETA, rather than offering only community mobilization and primary prevention.

Trial registration

The trial was registered on ClinicalTrials.gov (NCT02790827).

This paper was published at
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