Abused by HIV positive hubby
19 November 2015
. . . How Chido escaped HIV
THIRTY-EIGHT-YEAR-OLD – Chido had been married for 20 years and was blessed with three children in the union.
Being the loving wife she was, she decided to stay in her marriage even after they had gone for an HIV test with her husband (we will call him Sam) tested positive while she tested negative.
Chido and Sam were what is defined as a serodiscordant couple – one with a mixed HIV status.
“I got married when I was 18 years old and I endured all types of abuse from my husband but I still wanted to keep my marriage.
“At first I could not believe the results because we had just had unprotected sex the previous night. He was a very adulterous man yet I kept praying to God that he would find his turning point and stop cheating on me.
“So even when we finally went for an HIV test in 2007 and he was found to be HIV positive and I was negative, I still stood by him and comforted him assuring him that all would be well,” she recalled.
After the HIV tests, they were given guidelines on how they should live as husband and wife by counsellors, according to Chido.
“After the tests, we were told that we were to have sex using condoms so that I don’t get infected. And this then created more problems because he insisted that he didn’t want to use protection because he had paid lobola and was taking good care of me,” she said.
Her only crime being proposing that they use condoms during sex, Chido, suffered physical, emotional and sexual abuse from Sam.
She was even chased from their matrimonial bedroom in 2008.
“He became crueller after we got the results as he would question how I had tested negative yet we were having unprotected sex.
“He chased me from the bedroom hurling insults at me.
“Sometimes he would even prick the condom during sex and I still don’t understand why he wanted to infect me.
“So many a times, he forced himself on me without protection and I had to get post-exposure prophylaxes about three times as I feared that he had infected me,” she adds.
Chido said she went to hell and back from the time Sam knew that he was HIV positive while she was negative.
“Maybe he was in denial, I still don’t understand because he really was determined to infect me”.
In 2012, she approached the Harare Civil Court where she sought for a protection order against sexual, emotional and physical abuse, which was granted.
“I thought this would deter him from abusing me, but it did not. He continued forcing himself on me, I could call it marital rape yet I had nowhere to run to. I tried to seek refuge at church where I told the church elders about my problems and how he was forcing himself on me but that didn’t help.
“They told us to continue praying rather than counselling him to appreciate how we were supposed to use condoms to keep both of us safe,” she added.
Chido said she did ‘everything’ to make Sam accept his status and stop abusing her. From joining discordant couples networks, going for regular counselling, ensuring that he adhered to treatment which he started taking in 2009 but all this didn’t work.
“We joined a network of other couples who had a mixed status and I thought this would help him through sharing experiences but he made us withdraw from the network arguing that he had no time.
“This then became the boiling point and I just didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t stand the abuse anymore,” she chronicled as she fought hard to hold back her tears.
That same year in 2012 after approaching the civil court, Chido decided she had had enough of the sexual abuse since nothing was deterring him, she filed for divorce.
“That was a very cumbersome (divorce) process although I had no option. I thought of my three children with the eldest who is 18 years old now but still I had no reason to be in this marriage where I had endured sexual, emotional and physical abuse and my children knew I wasn’t happy,” she said.
According to the divorce papers which Chido showed to H-Metro, she cited wilful HIV exposure by Sam as the major reason why their marriage had failed to work.
“The defendant is willingly exposing the plaintiff to HIV infection since he is HIV positive and she is negative by forcing himself without proper protection.
“He is also abusive both physically and emotionally. She lost love and affection due to the abuse,” read part of the papers.
Divorce was finalised in December 2014 and Chido has since approached the Harare Civil Court seeking for variation on the protection order.
“He threatened to kill me and the children after one of the properties was given to our 18-year-old child.
“Now I want the courts to order him to stop coming to my house and we can always arrange a place where he can see his children,” she pleaded.
Chido’s life mirrors that of other women who have suffered silently in marriages as men refuse to go for HIV tests.
While Chido managed to convince Sam to get tested and has a testimony to tell, not all women have been as fortunate as she is.
“I had been regularly going for HIV tests for all the 20 years that I had been married, my only fear was having him infect me because he was promiscuous and I knew that during my first five years in marriage.
“It is not by luck that I’m HIV negative but it’s just by the grace of God,” she said.
World Health Organisation (WHO) defines serodiscordant couples as those where one partner is HIV-infected and the other is not.
According to the latest WHO guideline on serodiscordant couples, HIV positive partners in such couples should receive antiretroviral therapy (ART) for prevention regardless of their own CD4 T-cell count.
The Ministry of Health and Child Care has over the years been encouraging men to go for HIV test as the uptake for voluntary HIV testing and counselling has remained low.
Poor health seeking behaviour in men has been fingered as the major cause of the low uptake.
Unlike Chido, most couples could be living in serodiscordant unions unknowingly.
According to a snap survey, most men have not accessed HIV testing and counselling services as they assume that their partners’ status define their status.
Deputy director for STIs and HIV programme, Dr Tsitsi Apollo recently said a survey had revealed that 11 percent of the tested couples were serodiscordant thus having a mixed HIV status.
“A recent survey showed that 11 percent of the couples that were tested are serodiscordant. This then puts more emphasis on the need for all the sexually active people to know their HIV status.
“What this simply means is that your partner’s status is not your status,” she said.
Dr Apollo said more women are using HIV testing and counselling services than men.
According to the Zimbabwe Demographic Health Survey of 2010-11, only 36 percent of men have ever been tested and know their status compared to 57 percent of women.
Dr Apollo said this is due to women getting tested when they access antenatal care services.
She added that HIV counselling and testing is also important in the elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV yet they were still struggling with male involvement in all this. She added that when people in the communities know their status, they will behave responsibly.
“Voluntary counselling and testing is a very important entry point to HIV care and treatment and we are urging people to take up voluntary services. This helps them change their behaviour when they know their status.”
According to research, serodiscordant couples are often thought to be at “high risk” of HIV transmission.
However, new understandings of the biology of HIV transmission and the emergence of new HIV prevention options mean that the HIV transmission risk within these couples can be reduced to very low, even negligible levels.
While Chido managed to terminate her marriage before she got infected, she is urging other women to stand firm and go for HIV testing with their partners.
She also appreciates how women are struggling to negotiate for safe sex in marriages even when they know that their partners are promiscuous. She also highlighted how cases of marital rape could be rampant yet unreported.
*Not her real name.