Couples testing campaign launched
Johannesburg, 30 July 2008—South Africa’s leading HIV & AIDS research unit for adults has launched a landmark campaign to encourage couples to undergo HIV testing and share the outcomes together.
To reduce the spread of HIV, couples should stay together. The project, known as Masibambane – “working together” – has as its mantra is: “You only know your own status if you undertake a test, and it’s best to test with your partner”.
The project is being led by Dr Francesca Conradie, Deputy Director of Wits University’s Clinical HIV Research Unit (CHRU)
CHRU is piggy-backing the initiative on extensive voluntary counselling and testing (VCT) drives initiated by Right to Care, a non-profit Section 21 company specialising in HIV disease management.
The joint project is envisaged as an ongoing practice to attract more and more people to test as individuals and, better still, as couples, whether straight or gay.
According to Conradie, “It is a common misconception that an individual’s HIV status is the same as his or her partner. This may not be true. Partners may have discordant results – one positive and the other negative. It is not uncommon to think that if your partner is positive, so will you be. Or visa versa.”
How can this happen? A number of factors come into play. There is a higher probability of HIV transmission when there is another sexually transmitted infection. If the infected person has a high HIV viral load they are more likely to transmit HIV. This refers to the number of HIV copies per millilitre in their blood. Another factor is circumcision, as circumcised men are less likely to get HIV.
The simple truth is that individuals bring their own sexual history into a partnership. Infidelity may be a cause but playing the “blame game” should be avoided.
Even when couples choose to test separately, they are encouraged to receive their results together. This provides a transparent and unambiguous outcome that can be properly addressed – whatever the testing reveals – either by way of support for the partner testing positive or the maintenance of well-being for couples testing negative.
People who know they are HIV-positive but are too afraid to disclose it find it more and more difficult the longer they keep it to themselves. In a partnership, this is particularly dangerous. Testing together with a skilled counsellor assists in the disclosure process.
The Masibambane campaign was recently launched in Johannesburg where on a Saturday in the suburb of Windsor between 40 and 50 couples came forward for testing. The campaign will move to other areas but will return to places it has already visited in order to encourage continuity and greater community support. At this stage, testing is expected to continue indefinitely.
People who wish to establish where the CHRU and Right to Care voluntary counselling and testing unit for couples will be operating can call the toll-free number 0800COUPLE.