PIC: The writer while interviewing the couple
WORLD AIDS DAY
Today Uganda commemorates the World AIDS Day on December 1, Vision Group is spearheading the drive to get everybody involved in the fight against HIV. Vicky Wandawa writes about the star discordant couple from Reach Out Mbuya Parish HIV/AIDS Initiative. They have lived together for over 15 years.
HIV–negative husband, 60
Life was hard. My wife had been sickly for three years, from malaria, migraines, and ulcers to painful limbs. We were puzzled because medical doctors failed to diagnose the problem. Our friends said it was witchcraft. The year was 2003, 14 years after our wedding. We had five children. I was working with the Uganda People’s Defence Force. We went to a famous witchdoctor in Nakasongola district.
We were so desperate for a change in her condition, such that we agreed to strange things he made us do. He instructed us to gather 300 stones each from the bushes, and in the middle of the night, we would awake to throw them hard into space, supposedly hitting the enemy causing the diseases.
Of course, nothing changed. Our children, too, started falling sick. Our first born was diagnosed with HIV. He succumbed to meningitis at 16.
We then decided to go for HIV tests at Reach Out Mbuya Parish HIV/AIDS Initiative. My wife tested positive, but I tested negative. I felt lost. I wondered where the HIV had come from. But after deep thought, I decided that I would not accuse my wife of cheating on me; because the doctor had explained to us that HIV is not only transmitted through sexual intercourse. Who knows, she could have been gotten the virus through an injection that was used on someone HIV-positive. My wife wept heavily. She thought I would leave her.
We then took our other children for testing and three of them were positive. My wife was in despair and I was drinking heavily to musk the pain. Nonetheless, I reassured her that the children would be well. And I was right because one of those positive children today is a mother to two negative children and a wife to a negative husband. Another of our sons, much as many said would not make it past secondary school, will soon be a graduate.
We are grateful to Reach Out because they have counseled us, thus playing a big role in helping us cope as a discordant couple.
I advise couples that should anyone find out that their partner is HIV positive that should not spell the end of life or the relationship.
For starters, many think that they cannot stand using condoms all the time, which discordant couples have to do, by claiming that sex using condoms is not as sweet as live sex but it’s all in the mind. My wife and I are a testimony!
Another message to the discordant couples is to keep a deaf ear to the third parties. Friends and relatives have tried to make me leave my wife but I will not.
I also urge couples to attend counselling because has helped us live in harmony.
HIV+ wife, 58
I held my head and wept silently, when the counselor said I had tested HIV positive and my husband HIV negative. I knew I was going to die. I kept wondering how possible it was for me to be positive yet my husband was negative and yet we had been together for such a long time. Upto now, we have no idea how I contracted HIV. The counselor turned to my husband and asked, “What are you going to do with her, are you going to chase her out of your house?”
He answered that he was not going to let me go because I had been his wife for a very long time, and I was the mother of my five children.
Shortly after, Reach Out started the discordants’ club, which we joined and they counseled us on how to leave as a discordant couple. We learnt a lot and those things have helped us in our home. That is the reason I am still alive today, I would have died because of self-pity. Today I am so happy and healthy. So I call upon people out there, if your wife or husband is diagnosed with HIV, please do not abandon them, you can still keep together and raise your family.
Counselor advises counselling
Grace Namubiru, a counselor in charge of discordant couples at Reach Out Mbuya Parish HIV/AIDS Initiative says that the couple has set a great example to other discordant couples.
“The time they learnt that they were discordant, it was uncommon for partners to stay together on learning that one of them was positive. Also, there was barely any information about living as a discordant couple and many couples separated,” Namubiru recalls.
As the numbers of discordant couples kept rising, Reach Out Mbuya Parish HIV/AIDS Initiative started a discordant program in 2006, to handle the challenges those couples were facing. They offer a six modular training on HIV and discordance, to enable discordant couples live a fruitful life.
“We do counselling and also carry out home visits. We support the couple until we see that their relationship is stable,” she says.
“We continue counselling them because some take long to cope, others cope immediately and then for others it’s a wave, today they are okay, the next day they are calling that they fought,” she adds.
She continues that counselling is key because learning that one has HIV is difficult, but learning that they have and their partner doesn’t is even harder.
“Sometimes they even become bitter wondering, why them. If that couple is not supported, most likely they will separate,” she says.
She says that among the ways they help discordant couples cope is by asking the HIV negative partner to envision themselves in the HIV positive partner’s shoes.
How would they love to be treated? And is that how they are treating their partner?
They also encourage peer to peer counselling, whereby a discordant couple that has lived together for long counsels another discordant couple.
“This is because no one understands their challenges more than a fellow discordant couple,” Namubiru notes. Currently, there are 248 active discordant couples at Reach Out.