A serodiscordant relationship is one in which one partner is HIV positive and one partner is HIV negative. As one can imagine couples such as these face many challenges such as overcoming the knowledge of infidelity, deciding to maintain a relationship, determining what level of sexual activity will be ok for themselves and the knowledge that practicing safer sex by use of condoms will significantly reduce the risk of transmission of HIV to the negative partner, but not eliminate it. Other difficulties can include issues that may arise when one partner is sick, such as caregiver burnout and financial burdens.
Godfrey (56)and Pauline (48) Mtonga of Lusaka, Zambia are one couple that has managed to maintain their relationship despite these challenges. “We have been married 32 years,” Godfrey proudly stated, “and have eleven children and eight grandchildren.” Godfrey found out his HIV positive status on May 14th 1994. He was encouraged by Paulina to go for HIV testing together. When they tested they were given their partners results to present to each other. Pauline stated she felt very “annoyed in her heart” when she learned of Godfrey’s results. Pauline was negative and Godfrey was positive.
“The first week was very bad for us. “ Godfrey recalls. “The counselor came to visit us the very next day.” They stated that through the counseling the couple decided they should not get divorced and learn how to live as husband and wife. “They continue to have a sexual relationship with each other with the use of condoms. They are able to get condoms at a nearby clinic. The couple did however, have 4 children after Godfrey learned of his status. Pauline remained HIV negative and so are the children.
Godfrey’s brothers, sisters and children know his status and are supportive of him especially when he becomes ill. “ The children often go and pick up my medicine for me.” He started anteretrovirals (ARV’s) in 2002 at a time when he became quite ill. His CD4 count was 450. He has had no side effects from the medicine and states that he has been fairly healthy. Pauline encourages him to take his medicine when he forgets. He did stop taking his ARV’s for a period of approximately 8 months in 2011, while he was away from home working. He became quite ill with TB and was hospitalized, treated for TB and has since restarted his ARV’s. The illness and lack of work has put a financial strain on the family and every day Godfrey is looking for some small job. “At my age it is difficult to find work. “
Godfrey and Pauline have shared their story at the US embassy and with hundreds of listeners at Catholic missions. They have talked to other HIV positive people and helped educate them on how to live with HIV. Godfrey worked as a community worker for ZERHP and encouraged people to get tested. His words of advice are to “get tested, and know your status.” If you are positive, “love each other and take your medicine at the right time.”
“I have lived 19 years positive and they (HIV + people) should not lose hope. Life is there!” Godfrey Mtonga