By Vicky Wandawa, New Vision, 12/01/2017

We hid my HIV status from our children – husband

When did you get married?
1992.

How many children do you have?
Five

How did you discover that you were a discordant couple?
In 2006. Prior to 2006, I often suffered fever, so much that my wife asked me to have my blood tested for HIV.  We both went to Mulago Referral hospital, where she was found HIV-negative. I tested positive. At that instant, I knew she would leave me because she wept like a baby when the counsellor broke then news to us.

I, too, was shocked at the news, and thought to myself that my days on earth had finally come to an end.  But on our way back home, I thought about the friends I have who also have HIV and are living a good life.  Also, the counsellor who revealed the results did a great job. She said with adherence to the medication, I would live a normal life, with my wife.

How long did it take your wife to calm down?
She cried at the hospita for about an hour. When we got home, it was for two days. She only stopped to blame me for cheating on her and bringing the virus into our home. I tried to become a counsellor; I told her it was not the end of the world. We had children to stay strong for, and that if she agreed, we could continue living together.

After playing counsellor, I asked her the question I had wanted to ask since the counsellor broke the news: “Will you leave me?” and added: “If you do, I will die, do you want that for me?”

After a long pause, she agreed to stay with me. I had to apologise for cheating on her. I became inferior and she is now my superior in the home and we are happy.

How do you handle intimacy?
We were advised to use condoms each time we have sex. However, during the first year, it was not so easy for my wife. She kept telling me that perhaps the condom would burst, or slip off as we had sex.

I promised her I would be careful, after which she agreed and later, got used. I was glad because I have friends whose wives are allergic to condoms, but my wife is not. Otherwise it would have meant we could not have sex, and what kind of marriage would that be.

Do you know who you contracted the virus from?
I don’t know where I got it from. I slept with many girls even after we got married.

Are your children aware of your status?
No, we chose to keep them in the dark, why worry them. I am not about to die after all.

How about your friends and relatives?
It is just us – my wife and I – who are aware of my status. I can’t tell my mother. She would collapse if she found out.

Advice to couples regarding HIV?
It’s better to know your status because if you are positive and do not know, you will die fast, compared to if you had known and started on medication. To discordant couples, they should stay with each other; no one intentionally seeks for the virus.

Do you ever wonder or ask her why she stayed with you?
When I asked she told me she could not start all over again, and besides, she was not so sure she did not have the virus.

HIV statistics
According to the Uganda Population-Based HIV Impact Assessment (UPHIA), a household-based national survey that was conducted from August 2016 to March 2017, the prevalence of HIV among adults aged 15 to 64 in Uganda is 6.2%: 7.6% among females and 4.7% among males.

This corresponds to approximately 1.2 million people aged 15 to 64 living with HIV in Uganda. HIV prevalence is higher among women living in urban areas (9.8%) than those in rural areas (6.7%). Regarding discordant relationships, according to the National HIV and AIDS strategic plan 2015/2016-2019/2020, up to 6% of co-habiting couples in Uganda are discordant, i.e., one partner is HIV positive and the other is HIV negative.

Disclosing to the children
Letting your children know that you are living with HIV can be really hard, Joy Tumwesigye, a counsellor and official at Uganda Police Force points out.

“It would have been easier if there was a formular for disclosure, such as, tell your seven-year- old this much, your 13 year old that much, and all will be well,” says Tumwesigye.

Unfortunately, as Beatrice Balitenda, a child counselling psychologist with Inspirations Uganda explains, children are different, and so are parents, so there is not necessarily  an exact formular to follow when telling your child you have HIV.

For starters, the couple should be in agreement to decide if, when, and how they will disclose the infected parent’s sero status to their children.

It’s advisable that before one thinks of disclosing to the children that one or both parents are living with HIV, they consider their level of maturity.

“For example if you told a four year old their parent is suffering from HIV, they could innocently take the news to school. It is best to wait and gauge their level of maturity, to break the news!” Tumwesigye warns.

However, if the children have learnt about HIV at school or from the media, the parent can use that as an opportunity to build on what they already know. It should be done over time, giving them the details at the level they can understand.

Be prepared for their reaction
Balitenda warns that the child develop a blaming syndrome whereby they feel repulsed by the parent who they believe is to blame for the condition. They could also ask numerous questions, and their main concern might be what will happen if the infected parent falls ill, or if the other parent will catch the disease. Consequently, they will need encouragement. They may also want to know if they might get the HIV too.

Nonetheless, before making the revelation to the children, Balitenda advises that the parents undergo counseling to get an idea about the process of breaking the news, or get the counselor to do so.

“When parents get counselling, they are better armed to break the news,” she says.

But if the parent does not feel comfortable breaking the news, they could ask a counsellor to do it on their behalf.

What’s more, they could choose another adult to be in company with as they break the news, as this could help in answering some questions the parents may not have answers to. Also important is that the children need to be told who they can and cannot share the news with.

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