Kasongo: Democratic Republic of Congo
Not all beneficiaries of PMTCT programs are HIV-positive, nor are they all women. In fact, the vast majority of clients tested for HIV at EGPAF-supported PMTCT sites will be negative, and will be given information and counseling on how to avoid infection in the future to maintain their HIV-negative status.
For many, it’s a relief to be tested negative. Knowing that one is healthy and has the opportunity to preserve one’s health and avoid infection in the future is a powerful motivator to exhibit healthy behaviors.
During the HIV counseling and testing process at EGPAF PMTCT sites, women are given a paper invitation (in local dialects as applicable) that invite their male partners to return to the site to learn more about their families’ health and receive free HIV testing. It is hoped that with these invitations, male partner participation in the antenatal care (ANC) and prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT) services can be improved. In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), it’s rare for men to accompany their wives to ANC visits. This is a major opportunity lost for male partners to learn about their families’ health and participate in planning for the upcoming birth.
EGPAF-supported PMTCT programs in DRC have been working for several years to increase uptake of male partner testing and participation in ANC, but it is an uphill battle; in fact, the current rate of 15% of men returning for a test represents a success within the cultural context of DRC. Further, at many maternities in DRC, “no men allowed” signs are posted on the door. Changing cultural norms in this respect is a very slow process.
A gentleman named Kasongo – who preferred not to give his last name – is one of the male partners of a PMTCT beneficiary, and is doing his part to slowly turn the tide of male partner participation in family health in DRC. Originally from Bandundu Province, Kasongo, 37, and his wife Paula, 27, now live in Kinshasa and have had three children. During her most recent pregnancy, his wife sought ANC services at Binza Maternity, receiving an HIV test and a paper invitation for Kasongo.
When she returned home with the invitation, they discussed the opportunity, and he decided to come in to be tested. Despite two previous pregnancies during which his wife also attended ANC at Binza, this was his first time visiting the ANC. When asked why he decided to come in, he said that after he learned that his wife had taken an HIV test and was negative, he started to wonder about his own status. After finding out his result, he said he was relieved to know that he and his spouse are both in good health.
Kasongo says he often talks to his friends at work about the importance of being tested. He has informed them that this service is available, and that if they go to Binza, they can be tested for free.
When Kasongo was asked if he knew it was possible to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV, he said yes. He also mentioned that when he was tested, the doctor explained him how it is possible to protect children from HIV. Also, since Kasongo tested HIV-negative, the doctor explained how Kasongo can prevent getting HIV himself.
For now, Kasongo maintains that he does not have any friends who are HIV-positive; he says they all know now how to protect themselves from contracting the virus. Kasongo plans to continue to be faithful to his wife, and hopes for her to continue being faithful to him to reduce their chance of contracting the virus.