30 May 2014

Burundi: HIV Discordant Couples Face Pressure and Discrimination

Discordant couples are not sustainable, according to a survey among members of the National Network of Youth Living with HIV in Burundi. After listening to testimonies from discordant couples, where one partner is infected and the other is not, 80 per cent of young people in the organisation said they believed such relationships are destined to fail.

"When my wife and I met, everything was perfect - we loved each other," says Regis, who is a member of the network. "Then, gradually, everything changed. At only five years of marriage we have already thought about divorce. What are the real reasons for the end of our great love?"

Regis, 30, and his wife are a discordant couple: he is living with HIV and his wife is not infected. According to Regis, although the love was there, the pressures he and his wife were under from family and friends meant that she was unable to fulfil his sexual needs. Although she is HIV negative, Regis' wife suffered the same discrimination as he did.

Challenges in discordant relationships

The problems in Regis' marriage show the challenges discordant couples can face. These include pressure from family and friends, discrimination and the stigma of being singled out, a lack of tolerance and the sense of obligation to use condoms to avoid infecting the HIV negative partner. Sometimes, the non-infected partner wants to show the infected one that he or she did them a favour by agreeing to live with them. Many disputes are started in this way.

Gentil is another young man living with HIV who has a partner who is not infected, he says: "Everyone is free to make their own decisions, to make their own choices."

One of the problems Gentil has encountered is a lack of understanding from his friends, who did not support him and did not understand that a person living with HIV has the same sexual rights as others. He believes people should stop considering those who are living with HIV as restricted and living with a disability.

Discrimination is not over

The young members of the National Network of Youth Living with HIV say that when their time comes to get married, they want to choose among their peers who are HIV positive. This is because they share the same problems, difficulties and challenges and all follow antiretroviral treatment. They do not want to be a burden upon another person.

And discrimination and misconceptions remain a major problem. Due to a lack of information, many people still believe that a person living with HIV cannot live with a non-infected partner without infecting them.

One young woman says: "People think there is a limited circle of choosing our partner - we are not allowed to go beyond our peers. Discrimination is not yet ended - it is coming in another way."

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