Open Access Research article

South Africans with recent pregnancy rarely know partner’s HIV serostatus: implications for serodiscordant couples interventions

Lynn T Matthews12*, Lizzie Moore3, Tamaryn L Crankshaw4, Cecilia Milford3, Fortunate N Mosery3, Ross Greener3, Christina Psaros5, Steven A Safren5, David R Bangsberg1 and Jennifer A Smit3

Author Affiliations

1 Division of Infectious Disease and Center for Global Health, Massachusetts General Hospital, 100 Cambridge Street, 15th Floor, Boston, MA 02114, USA

2 Division of Infectious Disease, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, USA

3 Maternal, Adolescent and Child Health (MatCH), Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Durban, South Africa

4 Health Economics and HIV and AIDS Research Division, University of Kwazulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa

5 Department of Psychiatry, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, USA

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Public Health 2014, 14:843  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-14-843

Published: 14 August 2014



Implementation of safer conception strategies requires knowledge of partner HIV-serostatus. We recruited women and men in a high HIV-prevalence setting for a study to assess periconception risk behavior among individuals reporting HIV-serodiscordant partnerships. We report screening data from that study with the objective of estimating the proportion of individuals who are aware that they are in an HIV-serodiscordant relationship at the time of conception.


We screened women and men attending antenatal and antiretroviral clinics in Durban, South Africa for enrollment in a study of periconception risk behavior among individuals with serodiscordant partners. Screening questionnaires assessed for study eligibility including age 18–45 years (for women) or at least 18 years of age (for men), pregnancy in past year (women) or partner pregnancy in the past 3 years (men), HIV status of partner for recent pregnancy, participant’s HIV status, and infected partner’s HIV status having been known before the referent pregnancy.


Among 2620 women screened, 2344 (90%) met age and pregnancy criteria and knew who fathered the referent pregnancy. Among those women, 963 (41%) did not know the pregnancy partner’s HIV serostatus at time of screening. Only 92 (4%) reported knowing of a serodiscordant partnership prior to pregnancy. Among 1166 men screened, 225 (19%) met age and pregnancy criteria. Among those men, 71 (32%) did not know the pregnancy partner’s HIV status and only 30 (13%) reported knowing of a serodiscordant partnership prior to pregnancy.


In an HIV-endemic setting, awareness of partner HIV serostatus is rare. Innovative strategies to increase HIV testing and disclosure are required to facilitate HIV prevention interventions for serodiscordant couples.

HIV prevention; HIV serodiscordant couples; Safer conception; HIV serostatus disclosure