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Open Access Research article

Couple experiences of provider-initiated couple HIV testing in an antenatal clinic in Lusaka, Zambia: lessons for policy and practice

Maurice Musheke123*, Virginia Bond14 and Sonja Merten23

Author Affiliations

1 Zambia AIDS-related TB Research Project, University of Zambia, P.O Box 50697, Lusaka, Zambia

2 Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, Socinstrasse 57, Basel CH-4002, Switzerland

3 University of Basel, Petersplatz 1, Basel CH-4003, Switzerland

4 Department of Global Health and Development, Faculty of Public Health and Policy, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Keppel Street, London, WC1E 7HT, United Kingdom

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BMC Health Services Research 2013, 13:97  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-13-97

Published: 14 March 2013

Abstract

Background

Couple HIV testing has been recognized as critical to increase uptake of HIV testing, facilitate disclosure of HIV status to marital partner, improve access to treatment, care and support, and promote safe sex. The Zambia national protocol on integrated prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT) allows for the provision of couple testing in antenatal clinics. This paper examines couple experiences of provider-initiated couple HIV testing at a public antenatal clinic and discusses policy and practical lessons.

Methods

Using a narrative approach, open-ended in-depth interviews were held with couples (n = 10) who underwent couple HIV testing; women (n = 5) and men (n = 2) who had undergone couple HIV testing but were later abandoned by their spouses; and key informant interviews with lay counsellors (n = 5) and nurses (n = 2). On-site observations were also conducted at the antenatal clinic and HIV support group meetings. Data collection was conducted between March 2010 and September 2011. Data was organised and managed using Atlas ti, and analysed and interpreted thematically using content analysis approach.

Results

Health workers sometimes used coercive and subtle strategies to enlist women’s spouses for couple HIV testing resulting in some men feeling ‘trapped’ or ‘forced’ to test as part of their paternal responsibility. Couple testing had some positive outcomes, notably disclosure of HIV status to marital partner, renewed commitment to marital relationship, uptake of and adherence to treatment and formation of new social networks. However, there were also negative repercussions including abandonment, verbal abuse and cessation of sexual relations. Its promotion also did not always lead to safe sex as this was undermined by gendered power relationships and the desires for procreation and sexual intimacy.

Conclusions

Couple HIV testing provides enormous bio-medical and social benefits and should be encouraged. However, testing strategies need to be non-coercive. Providers of couple HIV testing also need to be mindful of the intimate context of partner relationships including couples’ childbearing aspirations and lived experiences. There is also need to make antenatal clinics more male-friendly and responsive to men’s health needs, as well as being attentive and responsive to gender inequality during couselling sessions.

Keywords:
Antenatal clinic; Antiretroviral treatment; Couple HIV testing; Zambia