Disclosing HIV status to a partner

Months into her relationship, Gladys Nthaka, 30, decided to disclose her HIV status. She was HIV positive and on anti-retroviral therapy.

Her partner pledged to be with her regardless and was very supportive.

It’s good to disclose status early in relationships to avoid disagreements

However, three years into the relationship, he seemed unwilling to commit. He said nothing about their future as a couple and she broke up with him.

Now single and looking, Nthaka wonders when is the right time to tell a man about her status in future relationships. Should she tell them as soon as they propose love or wait until the relationship finds its roots?

In an e-mailed response, programmes manager for Coalition of Women Living with HIV and Aids (Cowlha) Harry Madukani argued that disclosing at the start of a relationship is advisable.

“People should disclose their status right from the beginning of a relationship as the partner/spouse will still discover at one point if that information is withheld. Failure to disclose at the beginning complicates matters and erodes trust.

“In extreme circumstances, this can spell the end of the relationship or a recipe for gender-based violence (GBV). A solid relationship is built on trust not lies. Disclosure should be done prior to making any serious commitments like wedding or engagement,” he said.

Madukani further noted that delayed disclosure can sometimes lead to stigma and discrimination and advised that in such circumstances, the couple should seek counseling services and psycho social support.

Blantyre-based Mwayi Goli, however, thinks that disclosing early in the relationship can be discriminatory since it would mean revealing to a lot of people if after every disclosure they leave.

Goli suggested disclosing when the relationship gets serious.

HIV and Aids facilitator Barbara Mwandira said disclosure, especially to a loved one, is never an easy decision.

While admitting that it is hard at the beginning, she argued that with time, people get equipped with knowledge on disclosure.

“One needs to consider when to disclose, mainly before getting intimate. The earlier one does it, the better. They also need to consider how to disclose because disclosure is a process. They can begin slowly by introducing HIV topics or something related to HIV and observe the partner’s response. You don’t just shoot to the point. You can also consult health care workers, counsellors and those who are conversant with such issues to help you on how to start,” she said.

Adds Mwandira: “It is good to disclose as it gives one peace of mind. It also gives you insight on whether the relationship will last. That’s why the best time is before intimacy. However, disclosure can happen even after intimacy, but that has consequences.

“Some choose not to disclose, fearing the unknown or the fear of being rejected. Someone somewhere at the appointed time will love and accept you regardless of your status.” n

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