Culture, health & sexuality 2017 04 1119(11) 1239-1253 doi 10.1080/13691058.2017.1309460
Despite the important role of social relationships for health and wellbeing, little is known about how primary partners affect adherence to HIV care and treatment. We qualitatively explored how relationship dynamics and partner support influence adherence among couples from KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Twenty-four heterosexual couples with at least one HIV-positive partner completed semi-structured interviews on topics including relationship dynamics (intimacy or emotional closeness, communication, violence), experiences with HIV care and treatment and HIV-related social support. The majority of couples were seroconcordant HIV-positive (92%) and both on antiretroviral therapy (ART) (63%). Participants described how primary partners both interfered with and supported adherence. Negative forms of influence included relationship conflict, which resulted in forgetfulness to take pills, and men’s attempt to control use of ART. However, participants were more likely to highlight positive forms of influence on adherence, which included social support (instrumental, informational and emotional), intimacy and commitment. The findings also suggest a reciprocal relationship between ART and relationships such that couple ART use may enhance relationship quality. Primary partners are important pillars of support for ART adherence, especially in contexts of high unemployment and poverty. Future interventions that encourage and leverage these supportive relationships could improve ART adherence among heterosexual couples in similar settings.