Integrated Regional Information Networks - February 13, 2012
NAIROBI, 13 February 2012 (PlusNews) - When they first got
married six years ago, Mary and William Simiyu were a typical
newly-wed couple - full of love and hope about their future
together. Three years into their marriage Mary fell sick and they
reluctantly agreed to get tested for HIV. Her result was HIV
positive but her husband's wasn't. Suddenly, they had become
"There and then I decided I wasn't going to stay with her because
I wouldn't risk my life staying with somebody who is HIV positive
while I was not. I wanted her to go so that I could look for
another woman. The counsellor told us we could just stay together
normally, but that wasn't going to change my mind," William told
Mary said her husband couldn't share anything with her, including
their bed, and when he disclosed her positive status to his
mother, pressure mounted on him to send her away.
"He didn't want to see me and he insisted that all along I knew
my HIV status and I wanted to infect him," she said.
After being counselled by community health workers and the church
pastor, the couple agreed to stay together, but both said that at
times it is difficult.
"At one time we love each other, but... when it dawns on me that
she is positive, I feel like marrying another woman so that I can
have a normal marriage, one where I won't have to use a condom
like a youth. I sit back look at our two children and I decide we
are in this together... better the devil you know than an angel you
do not know," William said.
His desire to have more children also adds to the tension. "At
times I tell myself that two children are not enough and I want
more. I don't want more with her because I fear sex without a
condom. This at times pushes me to try and look for another
woman," he admitted.
Experts say the desire to have children could be fuelling the
spread of HIV in marriages. "Many people still view children as
the epitome of a successful and fulfilling marriage," noted Lucy
Waweru, a psychology lecturer at the University of Nairobi.
"This phenomenon, while not bad in itself, is pushing many
couples, even those that are discordant, to engage in sex without
condoms, and it means that the negative partner might
sero-convert at some point."
An estimated 6 percent of Kenyan couples - about 344,000 - are
HIV discordant, while a further 22 percent of couples know the
HIV status of their sexual partners. Although Kenya has national
guidelines for promoting prevention among people living with HIV,
implementing them has proved to be a challenge.
Dr Charles Okal, the AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD)
Coordinator for Nyanza Province says providing services for
discordant couples is made difficult by the fact that testing is
the only way to find them, yet couples rarely turn out for
According to the Kenya AIDS Strategic Plan 2009/13, the higher
level of HIV testing amongst women (43 percent) compared to men
(25 percent) is mainly due to antenatal testing and the uptake of
prevention of mother-to-child transmission programmes.
"We are constantly passing the message forward that couples
should be tested together so that those that are discordant can
be singled out and ways to stop the infection of the negative
partner are put in place," Okal told IRIN/PlusNews.
"Otherwise, marriages continue to be at high risk because people
do not know the status of their partners, and at the same time it
is in these unions where condom use is lowest."
The Kenya AIDS Indicator Survey 2007 notes that 45 percent of all
new HIV infections occur in marriages, but the fear of disclosure
remains a major problem. "Even those partners who already know
their status would rather keep quiet about it because they don't
know how the other partner will react on knowing their
sero-positive status," Okal said.
"If it is a woman, there could be violence or her being sent away
by the husband," he noted. "That could be the moment love ceases
to exist for many couples."