Bongani and Violet from Daveyton on Gauteng’s East Rand have both been living with HIV for 10 years. They are also on Anti-Retroviral Treatment (ARVs) and are very healthy. They say their relationship has grown stronger since the day they met, and because they are both HIV-positive, they are able to relate better with each other.
‘We hardly have challenges. We enjoy each other’s company’, says Bongani.
Violet is the soft-spoken one of the two. She had this to say: ‘Our relationship is great. Bongani is very caring and loving’¦ all that I need from a man. He is very supportive… Even if I, sometimes, feel physically sick, he is there to explain and advise me where to go for help’.
Like any other couple, Bongani and Violet do have sex. They are aware that they need to protect each other from getting different strains of the virus. The couple believes that being on ARVs prevents them from passing on their viruses to each other.
‘Chances are very slim that we may re-infect each other if we were to sleep without protection because her viral load and mine is undetectable. There is nothing that can interrupt our sexual intercourse for that matter’, says Bongani.
President of the HIV Clinicians’ Society, Dr Francois Venter, says there have been catastrophic cases of re-infection, but says these are unusual.
‘My view is that it is so rare. But there are things that need to be taken into account. If both parties are on ARV treatment and it is successful, the risk of re-infection is small. They have a far more chance of being hit by lightning. In that situation they may not want to use condoms. But if one partner is not taking their ARVs correctly, they can transmit a resistant variant across’.
Bongani says they always use protection despite the information they know about HIV re-infection and that they are at low risk because their ARV treatment is successful. He says nothing stops them from enjoying a healthy sexual relationship like any other couple.
But, Dr Venter encourages HIV-positive couples to continuously and consistently use condoms.
‘To be super safe, you should always use a condom. I think if you choose not to use condoms you need to be aware there is this risk of super infection. You should realise that you’re exposing yourself to a drug-resistant virus and, potentially, a second kind of virus if you’re not on ARVs.