Discordant Couple Success Story

01-Feb-2009

Prossy Nakalema, 33, and Luke Ssemwogerere, 38, have been in a stable marriage for the last 16 years. They exchanged vows in 1993. Nakalema was 18 and Ssemwogerere was 22.

Their lives seemed normal enough and they did all the things a young couple does. In 1998, five years after they were married, Ssemwogerere started falling sick regularly. He had a persistent cough and developed a severe terrible TB illness. He was later diagnosed with the HIV virus.

 “I was terrified but my major problem was how to spill the beans to my wife. I waited for the right time, but there was no right time and no easy way to say it,” reminisces Ssemwogerere.

But one day, Ssemwogerere picked courage and told his wife the truth of the matter. She didn’t quarrel or blame him but she cried endlessly day and night, not sleeping for days.

She later took up the test after intensive counseling and to her disbelief, she was found HIV negative. After six months she went for a confirmatory test which also turned out to be negative. She has since had several tests up to date and she is still negative!

But what surprised Ssemwogerere was her wife’s decision to stand by him even after establishing she was free from the virus. She has always been with him even when he had full-blown AIDS.

“I always believed in love. This is why when I tested negative a number of times, I did not even think about leaving him. The thought never crossed my mind,” she says emphatically.

She adds,” There was too much between us. Too much love, too many dreams, too much history. The love that we had built up for all those years is what I hold on. There was no way that I was going to leave him to deal with it by himself.”

Another thing, the couple had two beautiful and healthy children. Nakalema says she and her husband have never been closer or more in love. They had to bring up their children together.

Ssemwogerere says that they abstained from having sex for six years since 1998, without using condoms. “For one thing, we were told condoms are not 100% safe. For another, we are Catholics and our religious virtue doesn’t allow us to use condoms,” explains Ssemwogerere.

It is only recently that the couple started using condoms after talking to their religious leaders who had also realized that it was becoming increasingly hard since they were legally married. Nakalema had also feared to use a condom thinking she might get the virus.

Nakalema and Ssemwogerere are among the many discordant couples who are members of the AIC Couple Club. Grace Namwanje, a counselor and currently in charge of the couple club which comprises of discordant couples, says the club was started after realizing that the cases of HIV discordance among couples was on the increase. Studies done at AIC showed that at least 8% of all couples tested have one HIV positive while the other is negative. Before couples receive such discordant results, to them discordance is in abstract. They may believe that it cannot happen to them since they have been in sexual intercourse for some years. They may be tempted to believe that the results were inaccurate.

At first there may be a lot of doubt about it, and a lot of speculation. She says it is just by luck that the negative partner of the two is not regarded immune to infection; after all, sex has always been unprotected.

The need to protect the negative partner may not occur to them immediately because, “Is it today that the infection will occur?” they may ask themselves.  AIC established the Couple Club in 2002 to offer support to discordant couples.

The AIC Kampala Branch club today has 155 active couples and on monthly average they can get 4-5 discordant couples, being one of the biggest testing centers. There are those who opt not to join the club because of stigma.

“Usually there are some couples who come to know their HIV status with the intention of getting married, and others come when they have some misunderstanding with marital issues,” says Namwanje.

The couple club supports couples socially and psychologically, enabling them cope with denial, avoid blame, or violence. At the discordant Couple Club, AIC provides; ongoing psychosocial support, continuous education to prevent the infection of the HIV negative partner, peer psychosocial support groups through sharing experiences, promote positive living and provide education on treatment options. The club also imports income generation skills for many of the clients

By Elvis Basudde