Voluntary counseling and testing for couples: a high-leverage intervention for HIV/AIDS prevention in sub-Saharan Africa

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for HIV, STD and TB Prevention, Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention-Surveillance and Epidemiology, Atlanta, GA 30333, USA.
Social Science [?] Medicine (Impact Factor: 2.56). 01/2002; 53(11):1397-411. DOI: 10.1016/S0277-9536(00)00427-5
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Most HIV infections in sub-Saharan Africa occur during heterosexual intercourse between persons in couple relationships. Women who are infected by HIV seropositive partners risk infecting their infants in turn. Despite their salience as social contexts for sexual activity and HIV infection, couple relationships have not been given adequate attention by social/behavioral research in sub-Saharan Africa. Increasingly studies point to the value of voluntary HIV counseling and testing (VCT) as a HIV prevention tool. Studies in Africa frequently report that VCT is associated with reduced risk behaviors and lower rates of seroconversion among HIV serodiscordant couples. Many of these studies point out that VCT has considerable potential for HIV prevention among other heterosexual couples, and recommend that VCT for couples be practiced more widely in Africa. However, follow-up in the area of VCT for couples has been extremely limited. Thus, current understandings from social/behavioral research on how couples in sub-Saharan Africa manage HIV risks as well as HIV prevention interventions to support couples' HIV prevention efforts have remained underdeveloped. It appears that important opportunities are being missed for preventing HIV infection, be it by heterosexual transmission or mother-to-child HIV transmission by mothers who have been infected by their partners. Based on an overview of documentation on VCT in sub-Saharan Africa, this paper proposes that increased attention to couples-focused VCT provides a high-leverage HIV prevention intervention for African countries. The second half of the paper indicates areas where VCT needs to be strengthened, particularly with respect to couples. It also identifies areas where applied social/behavioral research is needed to improve knowledge about how couples in sub-Saharan Africa deal with the risks of HIV infection.

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