A government campaign initiated to encourage couples to jointly test for HIV has received a low reception in Soroti district, eastern Uganda.
Launched in September 2009, the “Go Together, Know Together” campaign was designed to empower couples to initiate and sustain communication around HIV and AIDS. The campaign works to encourage couples to seek HIV counseling and testing together, encourage HIV status disclosure among sexual partners and adoption and maintenance of positive health practices. It also links couples living with HIV to treatment, care, and support.
The campaign, designed particularly for married and cohabiting couples of unknown HIV status, was implemented in the eight districts with AIDS Information Centre (AIC) branches. They include Kampala, Jinja, Mbale, Arua, Lira, Soroti, Mbarara, and Kabale. After testing, the couples would transition into HIV positive concordant couples, HIV negative concordant couples, and HIV discordant couples from where secondary support could be provided to them.
But couples in Soroti district attest to a failure to adhere to the campaign guidelines. Men and women have continuously avoided their spouses while going for HIV counseling and testing. Similarly, couples still fear disclosing their status after testing positive to HIV.
Jenifer Among, 30, a resident of Soroti town said she opted to test for HIV alone without notifying her husband and could not disclose her status after testing positive to HIV.
”I feared disclosing my status to my husband because I thought he would beat me for bringing the infection. I waited until he fell sick, that is when he was tested and found to be HIV positive,” Among told Uganda Radio Network.
Margret Akello, 45, a resident of Eastern Ward in Soroti town also opted to test alone after discovering that her husband was secretly taking anti-retroviral drugs.
“While cleaning our bedroom, I found a white small container carrying about 40 tablets wrapped in an envelope; i swiftly took it to a nearby clinic where I was told that it was ARV drugs for HIV patients, “Akello narrated.
Akello says that the discovery prompted her to test for HIV. After a positive result and a low CD4 count, Akello was enrolled on anti-retroviral therapy without notifying her husband. However, she opted to keep her drugs at the same place with the husband as a way of notifying him of her status. They were later counseled jointly.
Philemon Oryada, a community social worker in Soroti district says stigma and fear of breaking marriages are the leading factors crippling couple testing.
Oryada says lack of HIV knowledge is also crippling the fight against the pandemic.
Joseph Ojilong, 29, a resident of Gweri Sub County says it was not easy for him to accept to accompany his expectant wife while going for antenatal visit at Gweri Health Centre III.
Ojilong says his wife Juliet had conceived their first born when he was not aware of his HIV status but he later accepted to take soon after he had first tested for his status alone from a private facility in Soroti town.
Dr Alfred Anyonga, the in-charge of Princess Diana HCIV says it’s not very common for couples to test together.
“Couples have a tendency of taking ART from different health facilities individually. The wife may take from Princess Diana HC1V while the husband takes from another place like Soroti Hospital,” Dr Anyonga Notes.
Dr Anyonga suggests that sensitization through community outreaches could equally have an impact on the policy.
The 2004/2005 Uganda HIV Sero Behavioral Survey revealed a high incidence of HIV among married couples. Married persons account for an estimated 65 percent of new HIV infections, and discordant couples comprise up to 50 percent of these transmissions.