For some women, an HIV-positive diagnosis during pregnancy can spark domestic violence and abandonment. For Nokuzola Tholeduna, her diagnosis brought her young family together.
Tholeduna, 27, was diagnosed with HIV during her first pregnancy.
“When I first discovered that I was HIV positive, I was still young and feeling healthy by my standards,” she said. “After talking with the nurses, I joined the prevention of mother–to-child HIV transmission (PMTCT) programme so that my child could be protected.”
“It was hard to accept my status, but I made it a point that I would save the life in me,” she told OurHealth.
The next big step was to tell her boyfriend.
“Disclosing my status was the hardest thing to do,” she said. “First, I told my boyfriend, who got angry at me and left me standing.”
Although her partner left for two weeks, his return marked an important conversation between the two.
“We talked and came to an agreement that he also needed to test, which he did,” she added. “When the results came positive, he raised my spirits by saying, ‘we will survive this.'”
“We did and still do,” said Tholeduna, who added that her boyfriend’s acceptance and courage to test gave her the strength she needed to disclose to friends and family. They have supported the couple ever since. Tholeduna and her partner are now the proud parents of two HIV-negative children.
In a small, 2011 qualitative study of about 60 women in two clinics in the Durban area, Tamaryn Crankshaw, a PMTCT programme manager at McCord hospital in Durban found that while two-thirds of the women diagnosed through the PMTCT programme did tell their partners they were HIV positive, only half of them reported that their partner had been tested for HIV as a result.
“There were some positive outcomes but mostly there was a lot of blame, recrimination, and silences,” Crankshaw told IRIN/PlusNews in 2011. “HIV was never raised again within the context of the relationship, and in a lot of cases it was actively discouraged.”
As in previous studies, the women also reported being physically, verbally and emotionally abused after disclosing their HIV-positive status.
Tholeduna credits the PMTCT programme, her disclosure – and the love and support of her partner and family – for the healthy life she leads today.
“Today, I am healthy because I got tested early and I know my status,” she added. “I encourage everyone, especially young people, to get tested and know their status before it’s too late.”
Additional reporting by Laura Lopez Gonzalez.