INTERPLAY BETWEEN POVERTY, GENDER AND MARRRIAGE TURN-OVER IN SERO-POSITIVE COUPLES
There is a close relationship between poverty, disclosure and marriage turn-over among couples living with HIV. However, It is also important to note here that it is not always true that poverty and disclosure causes couples to annul their 1st relationships and remarry especially when they are infected with The HI virus. This is to say that there is a complexity of issues among them infidelity, misunderstandings, ethnic differences, religion, and betrayal which could also be found in end and beginning of relationships in HIV negative couples.
To begin with, it is worth noting that the HIV pandemic has had devastating effects on the institution of marriage in Kenya. Some information about experiences of women or men who had good time together before understanding their HIV status and the impact disclosure of their status has had is not so much in public domain, but can be shared by those who have gone through a similar experience. It was dumbfounding to realize that in a group of about 30 PLWH(people Living with HIV) members, ¾ had broken their first relationship upon realizing that their spouse was HIV positive and had not disclosed, and entered a second relationship. The rest of the members were contemplating ending the relationship for fear of their status being discovered. Only one person who was undecided-still in a troubled relationship (PWEC.May, 2012). Of those who had moved to the second relationship women were majority, since when the couple and their families discovered they were HIV positive, they were send away with no house, no property, no money but with children to take care of and basic needs awaiting. The HI virus has had a great rift on the African family. By this I mean the impact HIV has had on the African continent is so immense and the implications to the institution of marriage are devastating. African institution of marriage is getting new definitions in that what was customarily know as a lasting relationship between two families through marriage is coming to terms with separation, and divorce , previously thought to be western terminologies.
Contextual realities of poverty, stigmatization;
The overwhelming demands of HIV care leave couples with limited resources to depend on especially with issues of routine check up. They need money for transport, they need food for the ARVs to work well, they need shelter, they need to pay bills incase any of the couple is hospitalized and they need daily upkeep even with the HIV virus. This drains a lot on the economic base of the family thus weakening their income in the event that the two couples are both down. This simply means no income at all. And in the event that the couple dies, the cycle of poverty Is handed over to the surviving children. And in cases one couple survives lets say a woman, she will be forced by her poor status coupled with the family needs to enter either a permanent or temporary relationship with a man who has some income in order to meet the needs of her children and herself. And if the man survives, he will be forced by the low economic status to do dirty jobs in order to provide for the family.
Research has shown that knowledge of HIV among couples has caused misunderstanding, accusations, separations, annulment and paradigm shift in husband wife relationship. It has been observed that on realizing spouses Sero-positive status, some husbands have died earlier, chased away their wives claiming the women are to blame, killed their wives, send them packing or disowned them completely. Women on the other hand have ill-treated the men pointing fingers that they infected them, gone separate ways for fear of accusations. However, the HIV pandemic has complex and myriad challenges to couples that do not necessarily lead to high marriage turnover.
HIV/AIDS MARRIED COUPLES- strategies for hope;
A multi-faceted approach is needed to relieve couples facing the impact of HIV by coming up a relevant strategy to address the social, economic, cultural, psychological and spiritual needs. The couples need to be taken through life counseling series where they will be supported to understand the dynamics of genuine disclosure and living positively, and finding meaning to go on as a couple. The second and most important is to economically asses and empower couples so that they can be self reliant even with the virus. Thirdly, it is necessary to address, couples fears and concerns of the unknown in life to come so that they can support one another, consolidated their resources, pull them together when they have a need and make some savings for their future and that of the surviving couple or chilrdren. I also see that the role of advocacy is critical since vulnerable couples –especially women who remain with some income are targets of exploitation or mistreatment by the families of their husbands.
Something also needs to be done to address the African cultural gap- for instance the cultural worldview where marriage is for procreation and expectations of healthy babies. Couples need to be made aware that it is possible to have HIV Negative children with the support of medical personnel. And even children born with the virus need the love, care and support of loving and caring parents. It is also important to address cases of inability to have children due to the paralyzing effects of the virus. This will help couples understand that it is not always a choice one makes not to have children especially among some couples lining with the virus. There is also a relationship between the HIV virus and bad omens and witchcraft. This brings into the picture the cultural expectation of cleansing and sending away women who resist to be cleansed. Couples who find themselves need to be helped to understand that HIV positive status is a clinical condition, and that AIDS has no cure, but can be managed through positive living. More so, a social relief fund needs to be given to the couples living with HIV to enable them to cope with the demands of life, especially when they are unable to work to earn a living. It becomes quite helpful especially in cases where one couple is forced to leave and go with nothing-especially the woman. I am convinced that accessing economic empowerment and social relief, together with the counseling and clinical support will enhance security, independence and positive living of couples infected with the HIV virus.
Finally, a strategy of hope needs to be sensitive to the needs of women who in most cases suffer the consequences of brutality and unjust systems. This means that specific arrangements need to be made to ensure that justice, advocacy are met to enhance the support of women living with HI virus to be able to take care of their families and many more in our communities whom women do reach in myriads of ways.