HIV PrEP: A tale of a discordant couple’s rejuvenated love life

HIV PrEP:  A tale of a discordant couple’s rejuvenated love life

The countrywide roll-out of the HIV Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) drug has gifted discordant couples a much-needed new lease of life.

According to the head of National Aids and STI Control Programme, Martin Sirengo, there are over 260,000 discordant couples in Kenya.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines discordant couples as relationships where one partner is HIV-positive and the other one is not. A couple is defined as two persons in an ongoing sexual relationship and each of these persons is referred to as a “partner” in the relationship.

With the high prevalence of HIV-discordance among couples in sub-Saharan Africa, PrEP was more than welcome news to couples like Peter and Nyambura who have been together since 2008.

The two have had to battle various challenges including widespread misconceptions including belief in immunity, HIV disclosure stigma, and the ultimate conception challenge.

Nyambura, a gospel singer, has lived with HIV for 12 years while her husband, Peter, is HIV-negative. Their relationship began 9 years ago after Nyambura’s husband died. It was soon put to the test when Peter discovered Nyambura’s HIV status.

I couldn’t tell him, so I went home and wrote him a text,” Nyambura narrates.

In one of the sweetest love stories yet told, Peter was able to look beyond the hurdle that many could walk away from without a second thought and continued the relationship despite the obvious risk at hand.

“I told her, let’s go and test and she was positive lakini nilimwambia sijabadilisha mawazo (but I assured her that I had not changed my mind),” he says.

The pair eventually got married but would hit another rocky patch when they tried to conceive. Peter, as a negative partner, was a high risk of HIV infection if the couple decided to conceive naturally. But with few HIV/Aids service providers at their disposal, the couple decided to do, what to them at the time was, the inevitable. A problem PrEP could potentially eliminate.

“There was no PrEP at the time and so we decided to risk. Tukasema kama mbaya mbaya (threw caution to the wind),” Peter says.

Peter did not contract the virus and their baby turned out HIV negative, but the stress took its toll.

When using the PrEP, a single antiretroviral pill is taken daily and should be started at least seven days before sexual contact. Its use continues until after the constant risk of infection is eliminated.

Discordant couples are, however not the only ones who can use it. Medics say anyone who fears they may be at risk is a candidate for PrEP.

Members of the public will be able to access PrEP in selected health facilities at no cost. The prescription-only drug was launched together with a self-testing kit sold over the counter at KSh.800.

After the official rollout, Peter and Nyambura walk away elated. This time round with the hope that their biggest hurdle soon will be a distant memory.

“The status gap that existed between is no longer there,” says Peter.