Positive and negative – the challenge of discordant relationships

Growing up as a young girl in Canaan, Highfield, CC (42) imagined a blissful marriage and a ‘happy ever after’.

But, she now describes her marriage to her husband of 20 years as a “pact that destroyed my life”. She says she has never known happiness in her marriage.

Wiping away a tear, CC explained: “David not only beats me up for minor things like failing to answer his calls on time and putting little or too much salt in the relish, but he forces me to have unprotected sex with him even though he is HIV-positive,” she said. He argues that her genes are “too strong to contract the virus”. If she insists on protection, he gets violent.

CC’s predicament is a reflection of the myriad of challenges faced by ‘discordant’ partners in Zimbabwe.

The technical term, discordant couples, refers to a relationship where one partner is HIV-positive, while the other is without the virus. Such couples face a lot of challenges, including financial constraints and social and emotional strain.

Taking care of a terminally ill partner has deep psychological impact. “The prevention of HIV transmission from the partner living with HIV to the uninfected partner needs special attention for discordant couples,” said AIDS and Arts Foundation executive director Emmanuel Gasa. A counselor, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said it was important that HIV-positive partners accepted their status and received counselling frequently.

“The problem is that they fear being rejected by their partners and this is why most people are afraid to undergo an HIV test as couples,” she said. “The HIV-positive partner will try all means to infect their partners to ensure that they do not leave them. This is why most couples break up if one of the partners is negative. “If discordant couples do not get help, the other partner who is negative may go around disclosing to the whole community, friends and relatives the status of their partner and then we have a big problem.”

Daniel Chuma, a 36-year-old Harare man living positively with the virus that causes AIDS, said it was important that HIV-positive partners refrained from engaging in risky sexual contacts.

“Unprotected sex puts you at risk. Sleeping with an uninfected partner is being mean and it is criminal,” he said.

Recently published statistics, released by the National Aids Council, showed that 15 per cent of adults are HIV-positive, a decrease from 18 per cent in 2006. According to NAC, prevalence was highest among the widowed and divorced; while 12 per cent of infected adults were in discordant relationships.

Chief Chinamhora called for the adoption of good cultural practices as a means of preventing the spread of HIV.

“Youths should be taught about abstinence and this can be done through promoting good cultural practices such as promoting the sanctity of virginity,” he said.

He added that it was important that families adhered to the traditional values of raising their children with good and respectful attitudes.

“Couples should get the help of traditional marriage counselors, such as uncles and aunts, to resolve such issues. Couples who try and resolve such differences on their own risk hurting or even killing each other,” he said.

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