Your partner’€™s HIV status may not be yoursLiving with AIDS #239

Your partner’€™s HIV status may not be yoursLiving with AIDS #239

Two out of every three new HIV infections that occur in Africa are in people who are in stable relationships. Also, it has been observed that about one in five couples in Africa are known to be in a discordant relationship, where only one partner is HIV positive. These observations have led to the promotion of what is now known as ‘€œCouples’€™ HIV counselling and testing’€ to strengthen prevention efforts.

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KHOPOTSO: As these observations are made, however, the answer to the question: What causes HIV discordancy in couples? is not a clear-cut one.

Dr YAW ADU-SARKODIE:

We do not know all the factors why people can live in a relationship together, (where) one is positive (and) one is negative. But some of the things we know, for instance that, if one of the partners has a sexually transmitted disease and HIV as well, it is easy for them to pass on the HIV; it also could depend on your immune status, if one person’€™s immune status is very low it’€™s easier for them to contract the HIV virus; even genetic factors ‘€“ it is believed that genetic factors are involved in HIV transmission and that some people may have certain genes which do not easily allow HIV transmission’€¦ We are looking at so many variables in terms of why people are transmitting to others (and) why people are not transmitting.

KHOPOTSO: But, even though the answer is not clear, Dr Yaw Adu-Sarkodie, a Senior Researcher at the Reproductive Health & HIV Research Unit, warns that HIV discordancy is a reality and we should take precautions.

Dr YAW ADU-SARKODIE:

It is important for people to know that the phenomenon of HIV discordancy is real and people should not assume that the HIV status of their sexual partner is necessarily the same as theirs. It may be the same. But, in about one out of five people we have known from research that their HIV status is different.  

KHOPOTSO: The message here is that just because your partner has tested positive or negative for HIV in their last test, does not mean that you share the same status. That’€™s the mistake that 35-year old Thabang from Zone 14 in Orange Farm made when his wife of four years tested negative for HIV on three successive occasions.  

THABANG:

Long time she wanted to do this, but I refused.

KHOPOTSO: However, two months ago, Thabang took seriously the notion that he should have himself tested for HIV when a friend suggested it to him.

THABANG:

But when some other man now tells me the same thing, I decided ‘€˜okay, let’€™s move on’€™. We made a day to come here, then, we found out that day’€¦ That guy is doing what I used to do ‘€“ womanising ‘€“ he likes women. I was also like that before I found this lady. When he came here I thought, ‘€˜he’€™s not scared to come here to find out his results. So, then I decided ‘€˜let me find out, maybe I’€™ll be alright’€™.

KHOPOTSO: And Thabang suggested to his wife that they go get tested together. However, he was not so lucky. His HIV test came back positive. His wife’€™s negative. That shook his young wife, 23 year-old Mmapaseka, who was also comfortable in their assumed negative status, as she had already had three HIV tests.

MMAPASEKA:

Three times now, I went to the clinic and I’€™ve told myself that he’€™s alright, he’€™s not positive because I’€™m not positive. I’€™m negative. That was until we got here. He has a virus. I don’€™t have a virus.    

KHOPOTSO: The story of Thabang and Mmapaseka confirms what researchers have always found ‘€“ men seldom seek to find out about their HIV status, let alone get help for a suspected health condition ‘€“ which can put them and their partners at risk. It also confirms the finding that men are most likely to regard the HIV status of their partner, whether positive or negative, as a reflection of their own status.

With the true knowledge of each other’€™s HIV status, followed by counselling and great effort from both parties, the couple has since managed to move from shock, anger and disbelief towards making a fresh start of their lives and relationship, which centres on healthy living for Thabang and making sure that Mmapaseka remains HIV negative.

THABANG:

We were not using condoms at all. We only used condoms when she was on the poles, meaning when she was on periods’€¦ But now, since we came here and since we know, we now use condoms. Actually, I start now to use a condom. Before, I was not using a condom.

MMAPASEKA:

Before I met him I was using a condom. I don’€™t have a problem. I enjoy a condom.

KHOPOTSO: The couple found out about their HIV status at a clinic managed by Dr Yaw Adu-Sarkodie of the Reproductive Health & HIV Research Unit, in Orange Farm Extension 3, behind the well-known Dr Gwala’€™s surgery in the area.

Dr YAW ADU-SARKODIE:

Your partner’€™s HIV status may not be yours. Go for counselling and testing together as a couple because you’€™ll be helped throughout that process. And, also, the burden of disclosure is not for one person. It is a trained counsellor who helps you through that.

We do believe that it is something that will help couples like this couple has discussed with us this morning.