“Married couples are more likely to have HIV”, states one poster. “Just because you are HIV positive does not mean your partner is too”, announces another. A third poster responds: “HIV couple testing brought us closer together.”
The HIV infection rate is increasing in Uganda, specifically among married and cohabiting individuals where the rate is over 6%, in comparison to 1.6% in individuals never in a union. Indeed, 65% of all new HIV infections occur in married people in Uganda. Despite these alarming statistics, only 3-4% of married men and women in Uganda regularly test for HIV and approximately 90% of these individuals do not know the HIV status of their partners.
Enter Go Together, Know Together – Uganda’s national couples HIV counseling and testing campaign.
Go Together, Know Together aims to curb the rate of new HIV infections in Uganda by empowering married and cohabiting couples to assess their risk of HIV infection, test together for HIV, and adopt practices that improve their health.
Launched in September 2009, Go Together, Know Together is being implemented in eight districts across Uganda. The campaign has branded HIV testing centers as sites for couples HIV counseling and testing; trained health care providers to counsel couples using specially-developed support materials; recorded radio spots and video and audio testimonials from tested couples, and developed billboards and print media to help promote testing; and designed brochures for clients outlining the testing process and consequences if the couple tests concordant negative or positive, or discordant.
The certificate of recognition that couples receive upon completion of HIV counseling and testing is especially popular. One counselor in Mbale district explains, “Couples are very happy about the certificates …. We tell them to put it in a frame in the sitting room where they can brag about it.”
While Go Together, Know Together has met some challenges – notably mobilizing men to come for testing, and explaining the concept of discordance to clients – the campaign, which is being led by the Ministry of Health with assistance from the Center for Communication Program’s Health Communication Partnership-Uganda and the AIDS Information Centre, has already gathered strong institutional support and encouraged a growing number of couples to go for testing.
It is the hope of Go Together, Know Together that one day every couple in Uganda will be able to answer the question posed by one of its posters: “One out of every twenty couples living together in Uganda has different HIV test results. Do you?”
Learn more about the Health Communication Partnership-Uganda.