It is good to be faithful to our partners
Sub-Saharan Africa remains the region most heavily affected by HIV, accounting for 67 percent of people living with HIV and AIDS, according to UNAIDS.
In the region, HIV is mostly transmitted through unprotected sex. The way individuals, organisations and governments address the spread of the virus has evolved, as the global HIV pandemic evolved.
When HIV first emerged over three decades ago, especially in the United States, HIV/AIDS was associated with homosexuals. This minority group already faced prejudice and discrimination, and this consequently led to stigmatisation and rejection of people living with HIV.
During the late 1980s, in Sub-Saharan Africa, images of people suffering from an unknown disease that has no cure, started to emerge ‑ creating a climate of fear among the population.
In the early years of the pandemic, some governments even denied the existence of HIV or the high-risk behaviours that spread the infection, leading many people to take HIV prevention into their own hands.
For instance, in September 2003, then South African President, Thabo Mbeki publically denied the existence of HIV/AIDS, despite the fact that that Southern African country had the highest number of people living with the virus in the world.
During an interview with the Washington Post in New York, then President Mbeki made the controversial statement that he had not come across anybody who had died of AIDS.
The pandemic has become so big a challenge that being in a committed relationship or even in marriage does not protect one from HIV.
We all know how the virus spreads. The sure way to get HIV and subsequently AIDS is by engaging in risky sexual behaviour – having sex with multiple partners without using condoms.
But it is unfortunate that innocent people – people who are faithful to their partners ‑ end up contracting HIV, while thousands have already died from the scourge.
Being faithful and condom use are key elements in the ABC (Abstinence, Be-faithful and Condom use) strategy. The ABC approach was developed in response to the growing HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa, and to prevent the spread of other sexually transmitted diseases.
This approach has been credited, by some, with the falling numbers of HIV infections in Uganda, Kenya and Zimbabwe, among others.
From 1990 to 2001, the percentage of Ugandans living with AIDS fell from 15 to 5 percent. This fall is believed to have been the result of the successful implementation of the ABC approach, especially reduction in the number of sex partners, called “zero-grazing” in that country.
In most countries, surveys show that many people believe the “B (be faithful)” message of HIV prevention was important and relevant for single as well as married young people, but the messages needed to be explicit.
For example, we need to make it clear that being faithful means having only one tested sexual partner at a time. Faithful relationships are perceived as ideal in terms of romantic expectations and HIV prevention, but were considered unrealistic if the relationship had a power imbalance.
Young people recognized the risks of multiple partners and a few recognized that concurrent partnerships are riskier than serial partnerships.
Condom use was promoted as the primary method for preventing unwanted pregnancy among youth, yet faithfulness was usually seen as precluding condom use and many youth considered condom use as evidence of a lack of faithfulness.
Overall, adolescents recognised that fidelity is complex. Young people need life skills education on how to establish and maintain faithful relationships with one tested partner and how to integrate condom use for pregnancy prevention within that relationship.
Programmes also need to explicitly address the issues of trust and repeat HIV testing within “faithful” relationships, which is an uncomfortable but necessary reality for many adolescents.
The thing is that, there is no risk of transmitting HIV between two people who are both uninfected. But the main question is, “How do you know that you or your partner is not infected with HIV?”
People do not always tell the truth, or do not always know that they are infected. Even if you are in a committed relationship and can trust that your partner is not being exposed to HIV, you should still be tested before having unprotected sex if either of you had any chance of exposure to the virus in the past.
Another issue that people fail to understand is that, if you were exposed to HIV just a few weeks before getting tested for HIV, the test result might indicate that you are not infected when in fact you are.
However, the result might be positive if the test is done a few weeks later.
So, both your partner and you need to go for a follow-up test after three months and it is recommended that you go for a final test after another three months before you can be certain that you are both HIV negative.
This assumes that you both have committed during that period of six months not to engage in any risky sexual behaviour.
Sometimes it is easier to protect yourself than to keep track of other people. Even people you really like can have things going on that you do not know about. So it is better to be faithful at the same time you condomise.