Success Stories: Couples Prove Their Love By Testing Together
GABORONE - Ashanti and Tebogo can't seem to stop smiling at each other. The young couple who live together in Gaborone have big plans to get married and grow old together, and so they have much to smile about.
With such big plans, they say, it only made sense to start their journey together by getting tested for HIV as a couple.
"If we go together we get the results together, and that way we know the truth from the start," says Tebogo, a 24-year-old policeman. "It's a way of showing your commitment to one another."
The young lovers aren't alone in their sentiments. Hundreds of couples across the country came out to test together at Tebelopele Voluntary Counseling and Testing (VCT) centers during a "Love Fest" promotion for the month of February.
Numbers for this year's campaign were not available nationwide, but VCT officials in Francistown saw 126 couples test together in February, 116 couples tested together in Serowe and 96 couples in Selebi-Phikwe.
"You can really only know your partner when you know each other's HIV status," says Innocentia Puso, the southern regional director for Tebelopele, a U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)-sponsored VCT program. "Testing is an act of love for each other."
In 2006, the U.S. Government through PEPFAR supported the training of more than 125 health care workers and HIV counselors from public, private and civil society sectors in Couple HIV Testing and Counseling (CHTCT). The curriculum used for the training was developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and piloted in Botswana.
As a result of the trainings, prenatal clinics and public hospitals under the Ministry of Health now target couples testing as part of the Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission (PMTCT) program.
Couples are defined by Tebelopele as two people who are married, cohabitating, pre-marital partners contemplating marriage, sex partners, or pre-sexual partners. Couples often won't test together because of conflicting work schedules or because so many married couples in Botswana live great distances from each other due to work. But testing together as a couple actually eases the burden of disclosing results to partners.
"It can be a difficult thing to tell your partner your HIV status. But if they are counseled and tested at the same time, and they are together when the results come, that added pressure is taken away," Puso says.
On Valentine's Day in 2006, when the VCT centers extended their opening hours until 8 p.m., a total of 1272 clients were counseled and tested. The highest number of clients served were in Gaborone (786) followed by Francistown (423).
"The numbers of couples we had testing in one day were normally what we'd see over two months time," Puso said.
Since 2000, the Government of Botswana and BOTUSA have supported the Tebelopele network of VCT centers. The centers provide immediate, confidential VCT services for Batswana aged 18-49.
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