Assessment of an HIV-Prevention Intervention for Couples in Peri-Urban Uganda: Pervasive Challenges to Relationship Quality also Challenge Intervention Effectiveness

Reducing multiple and concurrent partnerships has been identified as a priority in generalised HIV epidemics, yet developing successful interventions to bring about such behaviour change has proven challenging. We offered a three-session intervention aimed to improve couple relationship quality and address HIV risk factors, particularly concurrent sexual partnerships (CSP), in a peri-urban community of Kampala, Uganda. Before launching the intervention, a different group of community members participated in eight single-gender focus group discussions (FGDs) which explored issues of couple relationship quality and satisfaction. Findings from the FGDs guided the intervention. All 162 couples invited to the intervention completed a survey pre- and post-intervention. In FGDs, women and men discussed challenges faced in their relationships, including pervasive dissatisfaction, financial constraints, deception and lack of trust, poor communication, lack of sexual satisfaction, and concurrent sexual partnerships. A difference-in-difference analysis showed no measurable impact of the intervention on relationship quality or sexual risk behaviours over a six-month follow-up among 183 individuals who participated in the intervention, although many stated in response to open-ended questions that they had experienced positive relationship changes. Qualitative findings suggest high demand for couple-focused interventions but also reveal many individual-, couple-, community- and structural-level factors which contribute to women and men seeking concurrent sexual partnerships. More intensive interventions may be needed to overcome these barriers to behaviour change and reduce HIV risk. These findings also raise questions about how to interpret divergent qualitative and quantitative data, a topic which has received little attention in the literature.
concurrent sexual partnerships, couple-focused interventions, couple relationship quality, HIV risk factors, relationship challenges
Kajubi, P., Ruark, A., Hearst, N., Ruteikara, S., & Green, E. C. (2020). Assessment of an HIV-prevention intervention for couples in peri-urban Uganda: pervasive challenges to relationship quality also challenge intervention effectiveness. African Journal of AIDS Research, 19(3), 249-262.