Living happily as a discordant couple

Until 2006, Martin  and Beatrice  Kaphamtengo from Dedza did not know that it was possible for a married couple to have one of them HIV positive and the other negative.

In fact, from 2000, the couple always wondered why Beatrice was persistently coughing and sweating in the night.

In April that year, she was diagnosed with tuberculosis. The couple never even thought about getting Beatrice tested for HIV because not long before that, Martin had had his blood tested for the virus and the results were negative.

However, today Martin, 43, and Beatrice, 39, are a happy and loving discordant couple.

Between 2001 and 2006, Beatrice was hospitalised several times. She had persistent pneumonia and other respiratory health problems. In January 2006, she developed sores (Candidiasis) all over her mouth and had non-stop diarrhoea.

But one day she chanced into a magazine published by the National Aids Commission in which there was a story about a discordant couple that had been married for a long time. That marked the turning point as she and Martin begun thinking along the lines of themselves being discordant.

So, when they went for testing in March 2006, Beatrice was diagnosed HIV positive and Martin negative.

Initially, Beatrice felt that would be the end of their nine-year union. However, Martin objected to the idea, insisting he would still live with the love of his life till death do apart.

“I went through psychological and emotional problems as a result of Beatrice being socially and emotionally withdrawn,” Martin recalls.

Beatrice says realising that she was HIV positive was painful. She also says they had challenges using condoms because sometimes Martin felt he had already contracted the virus and hence, needed no protection.

As a result, they would sometimes stay sexually inactive for some time.

Martin encouraged his wife to join a support group for people living positively called Coalition of Women Living with HIV and Aids (Cowlha). Beatrice says the group helped her deal with her problems which she realised were common among the members.

And Martin demonstrated extraordinary support for his wife.

Beatrice says her husband always says he is not going to end their marriage.

“He always says he promised to be with me in good and bad times, and this was one of such times,” she says.

She says she is grateful to God for giving her a husband who is very understanding.

Beatrice is lucky indeed, because many women in her situation are met with indifference, and sometimes even violence from their husbands. Such was the case for Loveness Matola of Milala Village, Traditional Authority Kambwiri in Salima. She was subjected to violence by her husband the moment she disclosed her status to him.

A member of Cowlha, Loveness was forced out of her matrimonial home in 2002 after disclosing to her husband that she had tested HIV positive at Salima Aids Support Organisation.

She and her husband had been married for 12 years and had five children. Only two of her children live today. The other three died of HIV-related illnesses.

Ironically, Loveness’ husband, who refused to go for HIV testing, died in 2003 after developing what Loveness suspects to be full-blown Aids.

Explaining her ordeal, Loveness says she married her deceased husband at 16. He was almost twice her age and the marriage was arranged by her parents

She had her first child in 1991, before giving birth again in 1993. The same year, her husband married a second wife, without Loveness’ consent.

By the time Loveness gave birth to her third child, her husband had married a third wife.

By 1995, she had given birth five times. But it was the persistent sickness of the fifth born that made her to go for HIV testing.

Today, all this pain is history, thanks to Cowhla. Loveness is now enjoying good health and she is an advocate for HIV and Aids and women’s rights in Salima.

“I work with chiefs to fight for women who have experienced domestic violence. If some issues are too big for us, we refer them to appropriate authorities such as courts and the police to intervene,” she says.

Currently, Martin, Beatrice and Loveness are among 288 trainer of trainers (TOT) Cowhla has just trained countrywide on how to use a methodology called Stepping Stones in order to deal with intimate partner violence (IPV) that women living with HIV are subjected to in various communities countrywide.

Stepping Stones is a training method that allows communities to share problems they face in their daily life.

Martin confesses that before the Stepping Stones training, he used to argue with his wife over the use of condoms in their marriage because he did not see the need to do so.

He says the Stepping Stones training has helped him realise the importance of using condoms. He acknowledges that he never realised that he was violating his wife’s rights by insisting that they should not use condoms.

“Since the training was concluded, we have always used condoms and arguments arising from the use of condoms no longer happen,” he says.

The trainings Cowlha is conducting follow a baseline study on intimate partner violence (IPV) among people living with HIV conducted in Ntchisi, Salima, Thyolo, Nsanje, Rumphi and Karonga districts.

The study, conducted early this year, confirmed the occurrence of HIV-related IPV in all the six study districts.

Psychological and sexual violence, the study revealed, are more common than physical violence. While there is a lot of comfort in reporting physical violence, the situation is different when it comes to psychological and sexual violence, because psychological violence does not get much attention.

The study also recorded low levels of male involvement and willingness to undergo HIV testing and counselling with their partners, another factor that triggers violence among intimate partners with HIV.

The coalition, which among other things, strives to create a society where women and girls living with HIV lead a healthy life, are empowered, self- reliant and their rights fully respected, protected and fulfilled, was formed in 2006 and has a membership of 15 000.

Martin has demonstrated that he is a true champion of women’s rights by sticking to his wife and not taking advantage of their situation to perpetrate violence against her. His example is one that many men need to emulate.

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